Unhappy Meal

J. D. Ousley

Sermon—Palm Sunday14

“Unhappy Meal”

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Today’s long reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel includes a description of the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he was crucified.

This “Last Supper” has often been portrayed by artists. At Incarnation, there’s a dramatic sculpture of the event above the altar of our side Chapel of the Holy Nativity.

Depictions of the Last Supper usually display the varying reactions of the disciples as Jesus warns them that he soon will be betrayed. As the gospel we are about to hear says: for him, “the end is near.”

Artists have some disciples at the supper showing fear—afraid perhaps of losing Christ, or of being persecuted themselves. Other disciples are angry at the injustice of the charges against Jesus.

But beyond these emotions, there must be another, darker one: shame. Jesus foresees that one of his disciples will turn him over to the Romans. And he predicts that, a few hours later, the rest of his followers will abandon him in his hour of greatest need. As we will hear Christ say in a moment: “You will all become deserters because of me this night.”

Surely this betrayal must have been more painful to Jesus than the whips of the Roman soldiers. He had to watch his beloved disciples slink off into the night, leaving him to face his death alone.

You can get some idea of what Christ felt by thinking of a time when you were betrayed. Maybe, when you were in school, a classmate you thought was your friend made fun of you behind your back, and you found out. Or a colleague in the office took credit for some work you did — while you got blamed for doing nothing.

The four Gospels give many examples of Christ’s efforts to encourage his disciples to be true to their faith. And he told them that serving God’s Kingdom would be dangerous. Yet despite Christ’s teaching, his followers still let him down.

This is a cautionary tale for us who also claim to be Disciples of Christ. How faithful are we to the ideals for which Jesus died?

Do we, in our own ways, betray him? Do we hurt people we supposedly love by talking about them behind their backs? Do we act selfishly, like everyone else in the crowd? Are we stingy with our time, so that we do nothing for people whom we could easily help?

We, too, can be deserters. Given the chance to show strength and courage, we choose the safe path. We’re not threatened with death—and still we betray the Son of Man.

So as we listen now to the Bible’s account of Christ’s last hours, and as we share in our own version of the Last Supper—“the Lord’s Supper”—we should be honest with ourselves. We should acknowledge our failures to follow Christ.

Then, when Easter comes, we’ll be ready to embrace the New Life that God promises to all who share in the bread and the wine…

“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.”


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