We have been considering the
passion of Christ as the spectacle of betrayal, seeing in the events of the
passion as presented to us by the four evangelists a cluster of betrayals
which, in one way or another, include all of us. That is to say, we are all
implicated in the betrayals of Christ. By contemplating these forms of
betrayal, we participate in the passion and in the redemption which the
passion of Christ accomplishes for us.
Too often the theme of betrayal
is constrained to the figure of Judas and too often in ways which distance
ourselves from his central act of betrayal. Yet the point of the passion is
for us to confront the Judas in each of us. Nowhere, perhaps, is that made
more explicit for us than at the Last Supper and nothing is more constantly
before us in the sacramental life of the Church than the fact of betrayal.
It is made a fundamental part of what we variously call, the Holy Eucharist,
the Holy Communion, Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar and
the Holy Mysteries.
“In the same night that he was
betrayed”. These are
the words we hear, words which echo Paul’s words derived from the
experience, probably orally transmitted, of the earliest Christian
communities, “The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed”. On
the night when he was betrayed - this night, this very night - Christ took
bread, and gave thanks, and broke it and gave it to his disciples, to his
friends, as being his body, and likewise with the cup, as being his blood.
Yet the company of friends is
equally the company of betrayers. That is the hard, hard truth which we have
ever to contemplate and to contemplate about ourselves. We are the betrayers
of Christ precisely in the context of the fellowship of friends.
This revelation about ourselves
is the reason why, for Anglicans especially, there can be no celebration of
the Holy Eucharist without the explicit confession of sin. That is our way
of acknowledging this reality about ourselves, indeed this reality of our
foolish and fallen humanity. Moreover, confession is not merely a formal,
preliminary matter to be disposed of and gotten over before moving on to the
celebratory, happy-clappy, orgy-borgy, “let’s have a party” mentality
which infects contemporary liturgy with such a spirit of silliness. No.
Confession is built right into the celebration. It is an integral element of
the celebration; “who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took
bread.....took the cup.”
We cannot enter into the
eucharistic celebration at any time without the recollection of our
betrayals as the cause of Christ’s death. Maundy Thursday marks the
beginning of the Triduum Sacrum, the three great Holy days of the
Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
Maundy Thursday reminds us of
fellowship betrayed, of the betrayal of friends. The ancient Passover meal
celebrated Israel’s deliverance from destruction; the Christian eucharist is
the constant reminder of Christ’s deliverance to destruction through our
betrayals, the betrayal of friends. It is, as the psalmist reminds us,
“mine own familiar friend, who did also eat of my bread”, who has
“lift up his heel” in betrayal.
And yet there is something more.
There is the larger theological perspective which grounds human experience,
especially our penchant for the tyranny of our experiences, upon something
transcendent, something holy and something strong, namely, the love of God.
“A new commandment, I give unto you”, Jesus says - novum mandatum
in the Latin, hence the word “Maundy” in older English. What is that
new commandment? It is the commandment to love as he has loved.
What does that mean? It means to love in the face of the betrayals of
Something of the point of this is
captured wonderfully in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, in Imogen’s gentle
rebuke of her husband “My dear lord/Thou art one of the false ones”.
In the liturgy, we are reminded of how we are one of the false ones too.
Such is the fickleness and the folly of our hearts; a fickleness and a
folly, however, as this week would remind us, that has deadly, deadly
And yet love is stronger than
human folly, stronger than sin, stronger than death, which is why we can
only live in the love of Christ for us. The betrayals of his love
become the redemptive way of our entering into his love so that it can take
shape in us.
Paul has grasped the essential
logic of betrayal at the heart of the passion and at the heart of the
eucharist. We are guilty of Judas’ betrayal when we eat and drink
unworthily, not discerning the Lord’s body and blood. Such is a wilful
ignorance, a knowing unknowing.
The point of our liturgy is to
prepare us to eat and drink worthily, discerningly and with the true
intention of receiving what Christ gives of himself for us, even in the face
of our betrayals. “On the night when he was betrayed”, on the
night when friendship is betrayed, the friendship between God and man, God
forges out of our deeper awareness of our betrayals the greater bonds of
friendship, “the new covenant of my blood”. Such is his love
and the reason why his love is commanded. It is commanded precisely in
the face of our betrayals of that love. God’s love is greater than our
fickle hearts of folly and betrayal.
In the mediaeval cathedral of
Durham in northern England, in the fourteenth century, a ritual known as the
Judas Cup ceremony was instituted as part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy.
It has recently been revived there. It offers a stark and compelling
image of the theme of betrayal. Following Holy Communion, a large cup or
bowl called a mazer was placed before the monks. As Douglas Davies
explains, “it was once called the Judas cup because the face of Judas was
worked into its bowl so that when the monks drank from it they could see, as
it were, the face of Judas looking at them and, in a sense, mirroring their
Here is this short liturgy with
its explanatory introduction. It underscores simply and powerfully what we
participate in this night here at Christ Church. We contemplate the
Judas in each of ourselves, but we do so in the light of the love of Christ
who loves us and commands us to love him and one another in the face of our
betrayals of his love. We shall only be able to love him through his
love in us; such is the greater friendship of Christ.
Maundy Thursday is the day on
which we recall the ambiguities of discipleship even among the most
committed of us. Of those privileged to be present at the Last Supper,
one disciple was already plotting Jesus’ betrayal, while another would soon
deny any knowledge of him and subsequently weep tears of penitence. In
the mediaeval monastery at Durham those ambiguities were recalled in a
ceremony called the Judas Cup. … [it serves] as a way of reminding us of the
necessity for humility as we recall the ambiguities of our own discipleship.
Choir: Psalm 22. 1-11
The Dean leads the clergy to a
table set in the Quire.
Dean: As they sat at supper,
Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me -
one who is eating
with me’. At this they were distressed, and one by one they
said to him,
‘Surely you do not mean me?’ ‘It is one of the Twelve’, he said,
‘who is dipping
into the bowl with me.’
The Celebrant places the mazer
on the table and pours wine into it from an earthenware jug.
Celebrant: Alas for the man by
whom the Son of man is betrayed.
Dean: Lord, is it I?
Clergy and Congregation: Lord,
is it I?
The Dean then drinks from the
mazer and passes it to the other clergy present. Each in turn drinks
from it in silence.
Dean: Even if I were to die
with you, I will never disown you.
Celebrant: And they all said
Clergy and Congregation: Even
if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.
Celebrant: It was night.
The service concludes, as ours
will this night, with the Stripping of the Altar.
Fr. David Curry