The service is running overtime again. You’re checking your watch. Maybe it’s a warm summer day and the sanctuary’s air conditioner just can’t keep up. Maybe there is no air conditioner. Maybe the game starts in a few minutes. The kids are asking “Is it done yet?” as they crawl beneath the pews or chairs. But you know better. There is one more thing, And you really wish they could just speed things up and be done. And finally you breathe a sigh of relief because you know you’ve almost made it. You hear something that sounds a little like this:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (New English Transalation)
And you’ve heard it so many times that the words roll right through your thoughts, because you’re really just happy that you might get out of there in time to make it home for the game, or before whatever self-control the kids have left becomes completely spent. And you miss it. Because it’s always been there; this final Passover evening is described simply as “the night in which he was betrayed” (emphasis added).
But here’s a question: Why is the only modifier to describe such a monumental event “betrayed”? It seems to me that the Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, could have chosen so many more powerful ways to delineate this event. Consider this: though they may not have known it at the moment, this was the fulfillment of hundreds of years of anticipation for the Jewish people, the very last time that the Passover supper would point back to the events in Egypt all those generations ago. The final pure and spotless, perfect lamb was soon to be offered for the sins of all mankind. Why not “the night of the ultimate Passover?”
Here’s another thought: Jesus was about to undergo incredible sufferings, the likes of which, I think it’s safe to say, most of us could never imagine. His Passion. So much so that he prayed to be delivered from it just a few hours later. And only hours after that, he would be beaten and scourged to the point of near death, then hung on a cross, pierced, and die. These were his final peaceful moments with his closest friends, a holy banquet in a quiet room – one last meal among brothers. How about the “night of his suffering” or “the last night of comfort”?
One more option: The Great Teacher will soon be physically leaving his students and there is time for one more lesson. This is one last opportunity to give them an ongoing means to remember him, something tangible that they can do and teach others to do. At this point he gives arguably his most important object lesson of all, as he shows them how he will become broken and poured out on our behalf. Let’s try “the night he completed his teachings”.
We could go on here, but the point is made. And if you’ve spent any time at all in any orthodox congregation, to hear any description other than “betrayed” sounds completely out of place. And there it is – right at the beginning. Why there? Could have gone at the end – “He did all of this on the night he was betrayed.” But no – it’s one of the first things we hear when the Words of Institution are spoken. One of, if not the, most consistently spoken and received pieces of scripture – across generations, denominations, and traditions – said before one of, if not the, most important sacramental activities transmitting the very last instructions Jesus gave to his followers begins with the word “betrayed”. We know it’s not accidental. This must be important.
So relax. The game will wait. Nobody’s paying any attention to your kids anyway. Don’t let yourself rush though this last, best part. And consider for a moment just who did betray Jesus.