Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is it I?

The story of the Passover has been carried forward through several millennia down to our present time. Each time the story is remembered, there is a part that makes it personal. The litany states that not only did God rescue the Israelites who where enslaved in Egypt, but also he has rescued us who are alive today. There is an identification of the present with the past. In a sense, each time the Passover ceremony is reenacted, the celebrants are transported back in time to the original event of the first Passover where God sent the Angel of Death to destroy the firstborn of the Egyptians while passing over the homes of the faithful Israelites. They identify in smearing the blood on the doorposts and eating the lamb. In this way, the reenactment is personalized to each generation.

The same can be said when we celebrate the Eucharist. In the Eucharist there is also an identification of the present with the past. The liturgy of sacramental churches declares that the body and blood of Christ is truly present with us. While there may be divisions as to the exact form this takes, all affirm his presence. In this way, the inauguration of the Eucharistic ceremony by Jesus with his disciples just a few days prior to his crucifixion is also personalized and brought forward to each generation.

But there is also the sense, just as in the Passover litany, in which we also are transported back and participate in that Last Supper that has come to be so celebrated in the life of the church. We also experience the love Jesus showed that night as he washed the disciple’s feet. We hear the institution of those words he said at the table that are so familiar to us all.

But along with the disciples we also hear those shocking words that “one of you will betray me”. If we didn’t know the end of the story, we would join them in looking from one to another, wondering who would do such a thing. We would hear them each asking him “Is it I?” Since we do know the end, we know that it was Judas. We also know to what extent God and Jesus love us – so much that Jesus would die a horrible death on the cross to rescue us, not from the slavery of Egypt, but from the slavery of sin. His sacrifice brought us back into a relationship with God. It’s because of this that we celebrate the Eucharist.

One of the major elements of the liturgy is confession and absolution. Together as a body we acknowledge before God that we have sinned, ask for his forgiveness and receive absolution. The liturgy then builds in a crescendo to its climax, the celebration of the Eucharist. We hear his majestic words spoken in love “This is my body, broken for you” and “This is my blood, shed for you.”

But as we place ourselves at the table with him and hear his words, we are forced to face our own culpability. We know that we are sinners in need of a savior. We have just affirmed this fact during our confession. We know that we have not loved him with our whole heart. When Jesus comes to us with his words of “One of you will betray me” can we honestly say “not I’? Or when we take an honest hard look at ourselves will we find ourselves having to truthfully say “Lord, it’s me. I have betrayed you. Forgive me.”

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