Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re not sure whether you belong? You are the guest. Maybe one of many. But you get that sinking feeling that something’s not right? Maybe you misunderstood the invitation to the party and you’re early. Maybe you didn’t catch the dress code. Perhaps it’s just obvious that you’re the “acquaintance” among “close friends”. Sometimes, being the guest at someone’s table can be off putting.
Imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples, guests gathered around his Passover table. Of course, there were the classic Jesus-things that day. He had pre-prepared so they could prepare. He knew the place; it was already arranged. He even pointed out how to find it, exactly who they’d follow, and it’d happened. Being a guest with Jesus always caught you out like this – flummoxed, embarrassed, astounded, disbelieving… But it was surely much, much worse when he started their traditional, festive meal with that accusation: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
Now, it’s Judas, we know. We read it. He’d plotted. We saw – with the priests – for pennies! Perhaps his greed was the trigger – after the last dinner party they’d shared with the lady and the perfume. Perhaps Jesus had caught him out one too many times – embarrassment and shame finally moved the needle. But Judas did it. He gave up his friend to the enemy. He chose to betray the Son of God. He bore the guilt. Judas knew it. Jesus knew it.
But Jesus’ guests didn’t. It could have been anyone by Jesus’ characterization – they’d all been dipping in the bowl and eating food with him, his close friends. They might have had shock or fear or finger-pointing.But they were sad as they began to doubt themselves and examine themselves and say, “Surely you don’t mean me?” We know only one had betrayed. But they knew the thoughts that betrayed them. They knew the words they’d shouted at one another before; the greed they all had in their own hearts. They knew their disappointment with the woman and the perfume at their last dinner party – “all that waste!” they’d cried – and how Jesus had to set them right, again. And they’d heard what Jesus had promised about his coming death – they knew their fears, how they didn’t want what he seemed to want. Jesus’ guests may not have liked his accusation. It may have made them uncomfortable. But they knew they had reasons to be.
You, Jesus’ guests who have been invited into this season…do this, if you haven’t ever. Acknowledge the wisdom in Jesus’ ambiguous accusation. This invitation that gives his guests the opportunity to examine their own hearts. Examine yourselves at his request. To examine one’s self means to consider well in what condition you are. If we find that our hearts are hardened, that we are not willing to refrain from sins, that we don’t fear sin’s presence, that we could never betray like Judas or that we don’t care if betray like him…we should fear the kind of dismissal Judas would later receive. He removed himself as a guest of God’s gracious meal. For, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.” and “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Examine your hearts – see your sins – Do you belong? You should find that same discomforting disconnect with Jesus that sinners always have, the obvious misfit with their perfect host.
But, as Jesus intended for his disciple-guests, so it is here: “If we [find that we are burdened with sins and] confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” As we look at our own hearts and repent of sins that cause us to question our place… As we turn away from them… As we lift our faces out of our hands and look at our Lord who has invited us, we find that we do not need to be uncomfortable. In fact, exactly such sinners as us has he called here to his supper.
For there is the other experience, isn’t there? Of being the guest made to feel that you belong, no doubt? Often it is in the gracious nature of the host, who without question lets you know they want you there. At times, part of belonging is being caught up in what they prepare. Have you ever had one of those meals – prepared by a friend – that was just amazing. Maybe more than one course. Dish after dish, thing after thing – not a miss. Food is powerful and beautiful and its tastiness sometimes takes you above all your self-conscious things and simply lets you enjoy.
I’m willing to bet the disciples didn’t catch it all in that first moment, the beautiful feast Jesus was laying out before them. So, stay in the moment here. You guests at Jesus’ supper, you know what he is preparing in this season. At their Passover meal, they celebrated the long ago lamb of sacrifice, by whose blood a million Israelites were saved – God’s wrath passed over them when they painted lamb’s blood on their lintels long ago in Egypt. Jesus was about to do the same. He was the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. And he would paint his blood on the beams of the cross and cover over his people’s sins and death would pass over them as it passed through him. But look again at how beautifully our Lord draws it into his supper – so that his guests can remember his love and be caught up in his mercy again and again!
Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.
In this meal, our Lord establishes communion with us. He says that, more than inviting us to watch him in this season, he’s invited us to be his guests and to receive what he has done. His body and blood sacrificed for sins are the covenant – the gracious agreement and promise that whatever makes you uncomfortable to be his guest, that he has fully removed. Here, Jesus feeds us with his work and his presence. This bread is his body, given for you. This wine is his blood, shed for you. In these he is, for you…believe it. For as Matthew says, it is “for the forgiveness of sins.” As St. Paul said it, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup [Jesus has prepared], you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And when you proclaim the Lord’s death, you proclaim the certainty Jesus’ himself proclaimed. The joy of salvation and the peace of forgiveness – of belonging with him. As Jesus said tonight, he’s prepared this meal and invited you his guests so that you will be guests at the greatest of feasts in the kingdom of God with him one day.
This is the brilliant feast, the wonderful meal Jesus has set for you. And it allows you to simply be guests at Jesus’ table, people who truly belong with him, people who love being in his presence. Just like that lady guest, Mary, at Simon the Leper’s house.
Jesus told his disciples what Mary was doing at that first dinner party that Holy Week long ago:
She has done a beautiful thing to me…She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Mary was proclaiming the Lord’s death, knowing he was going. And because she remembered his love – how she had learned at his feet, how he had raised her brother from the dead – Mary poured out a year’s wages to perfume her Lord – for no gift could outspend what her Lord soon would at the cross. And it was a beautiful thing.
The hymn noted in our pre-service music we often sing around our Lord’s Supper. It helps us own the beauty and joy of being Jesus’ guests. It speaks this way:
Soul, adorn yourself with gladness; Leave behind all gloom and sadness.
Hasten as a bride to meet him, And with loving rev’rence greet him,
Filled with joy most deep and holy…with trembling awe and wonder On your mighty work I ponder,
The hymn helps us be guests, in a way like Mary. Guests so caught up in God’s grace, they have no fear, no doubt, no worry, but only love and joy to share.
You who have received the most beautiful meal… You who know the beautiful work of Jesus, the Lamb of God sacrificed… You who understand the joy of salvation… You, guests at Jesus’ table, enjoy his meal and his fellowship, remember his love and show yours. Adorn yourselves with the straightforward gladness of being forgiven and waiting for heaven. Perfume your days with praises, your lives with offerings, with love that God will savor and others can’t possibly miss. Come and receive his supper at his invitation with deep and holy joy, trembling with awe and wonder that God would so work for you. Be guests at Jesus’ table, not uncomfortable but belonging, with unabashed love and shameless adoration.
So that we may continue to eat at his table and enjoy his good gifts, then let us pray:
Jesus, Sun of life, my Splendor, Jesus, Friend of friends most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring, Fount of life, my soul inspiring—
At your feet I cry, my Maker: Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven For our good, your glory, given.
Jesus, Lord of life, I pray you, Let me gladly here obey you.
By your love I am invited; Be your love with love requited.
By this supper let me measure, Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure.
Through the gift of grace you give me As your guest in heav’n receive me.