Immediately after the dark and apparently motiveless scene of Judas selling his teacher for money, Jesus instructs his disciples to prepare the Passover which he will eat with them. This celebration of family, friendship and solidarity with the past will include the betrayer. What would it say of Jesus as a teacher if Judas was excluded?
The exchange between Jesus and the disciples about preparing the Passover meal to be celebrated in Jerusalem is quite detailed. He tells them what to do and who they will find and where – an upper room with divans and cushions : a middle-eastern eating space for reclining not Leonardo da Vinci’s quattrocento table. The impression we receive is that he is actively preparing for what will happen to him. Some people, who know they are going to die and have accepted it, cease to be victims of their mortality. From the hospital room or bedroom where they will die, they become more concerned about others than themselves. Death becomes more than an individual, terrifying extinction but a passage for a group of people tied deeply together by bonds of love and faith. And wherever there is love and fidelity hope is never far away.
The upper room – later called the cenacle – is not just a rented hall but a community space. Tradition says that it is the room where the disciples gathered on the day of the Resurrection and later for Pentecost. It is not a virtual community – as we have come to understand it – but one physically connected and identified with particular space. As with Bonnevaux – increasingly for our community – the space feels filled with a living presence.
The shared meal (that became the Eucharist) was meant to be a joyful gathering; but a shadow is cast over this one by the consciousness of the coming betrayal. The old Fathers of the Church agreed that Judas took the bread and wine with the rest. It is an important detail because it shows that the shadow in ourselves – and the darkness in the world before and since – is absorbed by the very light it tries to block. What seems a contradiction (as to those excluding people from the Eucharist) then becomes a paradox in which transformation happens and reality is realized.
This is my body: this is my blood. Two Greek words with distinct, overlapping meanings point to the gift he is making. Sarx (flesh), Soma (body). If he meant sarx it would be a rather gruesome gift – the cannibalism that people thought the early Christians were practicing. But soma means the whole embodied self. If a woman gets disturbing blood-test results her family don’t just hug her flesh but her whole body-self. The pain of the flesh is relieved by the love experienced in the body. Perfect abs and biceps may be the attractive wrapping of our self; but we love the whole embodied person, even when they lose tone and put on weight.
Before the physical and mental suffering for which he was preparing them, he was touching them, as Leonard Cohen says, with his ‘perfect body’ and, even more, including them in it.