A Warning about Christ’s Body

The Triduum is upon us and it behoves us to turn our minds from our own petty, and not so petty, worries, concerns and plans and focus our attention as much as we can on the drama of the Lord’s Passion, Death and ultimate Triumph. It is something far greater than all of us considered together, and it changed human history, and the human condition, more profoundly than any other event, or person, has ever done.

Though we will not hear it in tonight’s gospel, it is at the Last Supper that our Lord declared, “Now is the Son of Man glorified”. How well do you remember your scripture? Is it by the Supper that Christ is glorified in this passage from St John’s gospel?

Jesus shares the morsel with JudasOur Lord makes this declaration immediately after Judas leaves on his mission to betray him into the hands of his enemies (John 13:31). He had just identified Judas as the betrayer: “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel after I have dipped it” (v.26). Now strictly speaking in St John’s narrative this is not said during the Eucharistic core of the Passover meal our Lord was celebrating with his disciples: indeed, St John omits that core altogether. By St John’s time of writing the narrative of the Last Supper and the First Mass would have been all too well known. St John includes, unlike the other evangelists, the washing of the feet. In showing the Master serving the servants St John highlights for his readers what effect the Eucharist should have on us, what it is to have a Eucharistic heart.

Nevertheless, St John is too sophisticated a writer not to have intended the resonance of the Last Supper to be heard in this identification of Judas as the betrayer by our Lord, by means of taking the morsel our Lord offered him. Judas was part of the Supper, no less than the other apostles. Christ shared his Passover, and himself, with Judas as well as the others. It is no accident that St John shows our Lord identifying his betrayer within the context of sharing at the Table of the Supper. Immediately there come unbidden to mind the words of St Paul to the Church at Corinth regarding the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:29):

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

As I went about the solitary task this afternoon of setting up for our Maundy Thursday Mass, that scene from St John and those words of St Paul grew in their force on the mind. Normally we automatically identify ourselves with those apostles other than Judas: we notice St Peter when he speaks; perhaps we envy St John the Beloved his closeness to our Lord; or maybe we are happy to be one of the other apostles not singled out by name in the narrative.

Jesus washes the disciples feetBut Judas shared the Supper, and the Lord’s body, too. Sometimes might we not be better identified with Judas the Betrayer? How often do we betray the Lord by our sins? Even more, do we hammer in the nails ourselves, as it were, by deliberate, frequent even, acts of malice and selfishness? How often do we totally ignore the Lord’s servile washing of his disciples’ feet in our lives, other than to see in it a touching insight into our Lord’s personality and teaching? These too, alas, are acts of betrayal, for when we do so to the least of his brethren, we do so to Christ himself (cf Matt 25).

So as we approach the altar this Triduum and share a morsel of the Lord’s body, let us take time to discern truly the Lord’s Body and Blood, as something before which we should in awe, and in shame. For how can we share rightly in the Lord’s Eucharistic Body if we fail to discern him in his ecclesial Body, the Church? Can our reverence of the Lord’s Body and Blood be sincere if at the same time we revile him in our brothers and sisters in Christ’s Body, the Church? Perhaps we ‘only’ revile one person. But this does not let us off the hook, or mitigate our malice, for “truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).

Our worship of the Lord in his Body and Blood is not some standalone ritual that merely adds colour to the life of Christians. Our worship of the Lord’s Body must also bring us to discern his Body not just in the Eucharist but in the Church, our brothers and sisters whomever they might be. We worship not to change God, but to change ourselves. It is a real fear that unless we truly discern our Lord’s Body at the altar and in our lives we will never change where it counts. The heart that hates can have no place in the Kingdom.

May we walk with our Lord on the Way of his Cross to his glory in the Liturgy these next few days with hearts and minds attuned to discern his Body and hear his voice, so that we might also be able to walk with him the way of the Cross to glory in our own lives.