These passages from the Gospel of John and Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians privilege us with two of the most intimate moments Jesus shared with his disciples.
When the Last Supper is commemorated, we usually begin with “On the night that he was betrayed,” but in my own observance, I have taken to describing the more devastating reality, “On the night that he was betrayed, denied and abandoned by his disciples…”
More recently, I have thought that the Last Supper is not so much about Jesus as it is about the disciples, their memory of their mentor, the tender times they enjoyed together even as they proclaimed the Good News of the inbreaking commonwealth of God:
Jesus washing their feet; Jesus cuddling with the Beloved Disciple (which I believe could be each of us); Jesus expecting so much of Peter, the inconstant Rock on which the disciples would lean when Jesus was no longer with them; Jesus offering his own body and blood in the bread and wine of the meals they took together…
Communion, the Eucharist, would become their reunion with him and one another, the remembrance of their deliverance, in the Psalmist’s words:
I love the Lord, because God has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because God inclined an ear to me, therefore I will call on God as long as I live.
They witnessed in their salvation a very personal and communal echo of the liberation remembered in Passover.
“Once we were not a people” became “once I was not a person” and “once we were not a community.” “Now we are a people” became “now I am a beloved child of God” and “now we are the beloved community.” “The chosen people” segues to “the called-out ones,” ecclesia.
Now that I am three-score and ten years of age, I take special comfort in the words of John 13:3: “Jesus, knowing…that he had come from God and was going to God.” It has taken a lifetime for me to comprehend that I—and each one of us—have come from God, a reflection of God’s image. As a queer child, youth, and adult, I endured repeated denials of this truth, leading to multiple betrayals and abandonments.
But now, with greater ease, I look forward to “going to God.” Our euphemism for death, “passing away” means I am passing on to God, something that surely will help me “rest in peace.”
As today, I read, “Jesus, knowing…that he had come from God and was going to God,” I realize his overflowing joy and resulting generosity of spirit that inspired his whole ministry and teaching and acts of compassion. No wonder he rose to wash the disciples’ feet! No wonder he offered his body and blood in sacrificial love! No wonder he healed so many with his mere touch! No wonder he inspired so many with mere words! His grace was the overflowing grace of God that he enjoyed so intimately and shared so intimately.
Peter resisting the baptism Jesus offered his feet was as fruitless and pointless as resisting a wave lapping one’s feet on the shore. Paul’s “aha” in First Corinthians 11 is that “all who eat and drink without discerning the body” risk judgment because they resist the grace that creates the beloved community and flows through it. What immediately follows from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth are the variety of gifts the beloved community offers one another, the greatest of these being love.
The beloved community is that body of Christ we are to discern, we are to see, we are to feed and nurture and love. When we decide another is not worthy, we risk judgement on ourselves, because belonging to that body as children of God is always a gift of God’s grace.
So look around your congregation, your spiritual communities, your circles of friends and families, your neighborhoods, your workplace, your campus, your social network, and notice who’s missing, who is excluded, who is forgotten, who is ignored, who is denied a voice or vote or vocation.
“Oh God, we believe, help our unbelief!”
Rev. Chris Glaser (he, him, his) was denied ordination by the Presbyterian Church in 1978 because he was openly gay, though he served on its task force on homosexuality which recommended ordination of gays and lesbians and was serving as founding director of the Lazarus Project, a first-of-its-kind ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBTQ community. He is an author of a dozen books, a lifelong activist, and a blogger of Progressive Christian Reflections since 2011.