Betrayed- A Maundy Thursday Meditation

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” ― William Blake

Betrayed. It’s such a gut-wrenching word, isn’t it? Betrayed. Just to say it, just to read it can open up that aching hollow in the pit of your stomach, can make the room tilt, can dim the light and warmth of the brightest day. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt it at one time or another.

Betrayed. The word can conjure up faces you haven’t thought of in years, or bring to mind places and events you thought were long ago laid to rest. It can test your claims of forgiveness. Betrayal cannot happen unless first there is trust. It is, by definition, a breach of trust.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” –1 Corinthians 11:23-24

We hear these words every week in the Words of Institution. I was taught in Confirmation, and the lesson was repeated in seminary, that the most important words here are the words for you. That’s what Martin Luther said: the most important words we hear as we receive the sacrament are the words for you. I’m certainly not going to argue with that. I believe that every time we receive the sacrament we are having a powerful encounter with Christ. I think that’s happening on both a personal level and on a community level. The you is both singular and plural, although in the Greek text it is decidedly plural, all y’all.

Lately, however, the word in the Words that gives me pause is the word betrayed. On the night he was betrayed. I find it remarkable that, knowing everything that was about to happen, knowing that a friend who had followed him, listened to his teaching, watched him perform miracles, a friend who had travelled with him, camped with him and broken bread with him was leaving the room to betray him, to arrange for his death—knowing all this, Jesus still took the time and energy to give his followers, to give us, a gift.

I can’t help but think that this betrayal was very much on his mind when he picked up that piece of Passover bread and transformed its meaning with the words, “This is my body.” This is my body that is even now being betrayed. This is my body that will suffer in ways you won’t want to remember. So when you see that suffering and your mind reels, bring your staggering thoughts back to this bread. Think of how it takes life to sustain life. Think of how the wheat gives its all, its stalk cut off at the ground, its long stem, once supple and green, desiccated into sun-bleached straw, its nutritious seeds ground to powder, all to sustain your life. Think of how it is transformed into a loaf, a thing that bears no resemblance to what it was except by its flavor. Think of how in that new form it can serve many whereas when it was a single seed it was not even enough to meet the needs of one. Think of how in passing through the oven its ordeal of baking fills the room with one of the most restful, restorative fragrances known to humankind. Think of how there is redemption and new life in its pain.

Pain is the French word for bread. It is a strange quirk of our languages and there is no clear etymological connection, but I think of it almost every time I serve communion. Pain is bread. Bread is pain. It’s pronounced differently than our English word pain—more like pan—but even knowing that there is no clear linguistic relationship between French pain and English pain, my mind and heart refuse to accept that it is mere coincidence or accident that pain means bread.

The bread that heals us is pain. It is the pain of betrayal. It is the pain of humiliation. It is the pain of physical ordeal. For you. For me. For us. It is a pain to end all pain, eventually. A pain to make us cling to each other and make us vow that we will do whatever we can to save anyone, everyone, else from ever having to endure such pain again.