“The Hands Upon the Table” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our Maundy Thursday worship video for 2021. The text upon which it was/is based is Luke 22:14-23.
Maundy Thursday 2021
Maundy Thursday (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 22:1-38 April 1, 2021
“THE HANDS UPON THE TABLE”
It’s Maundy Thursday .... Holy Thursday .... “Covenant Thursday” in some traditions ... the first of the great days of the Triduum ... “The night in which he was betrayed”.
Traditionally around here ...
• It’s a day for us to wash feet ...
But we can’t do that this year because the County Health Department still wants us to be attentive to social distancing ...
• Then again ... it’s a day for us to share the bread and wine of Holy Communion ...
But we can’t do that together this year because the CDC still cautions against intimate physical contact ...
• And it’s a day for us to welcome First-Communion-class participants to share in the Sacrament of the Altar ...
But we haven’t been able to have the classes together that lead up to that experience in the first place.
But rather than grumping about what it is that we CAN’T do this day ...
Let’s try to make lemonade out of some of these pandemic lemons ...
And use this as an opportunity to pay attention to something that Luke the Evangelist wants us to notice about this meal and this evening that is at the very center of what it means to be the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
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You see ... the gospel-writers Matthew, Mark and Luke ... along with Saint Paul ... have all ... each in their own way ... relayed to us the story of the night on which Jesus was betrayed.
And each of them relates how he took bread ... and shared it with his friends ... and said “This is me, given for you” ... and how he took a cup of wine and said “This is my blood ... poured out for you” ... and shared that with them as well.
But ... in addition to noting that there were bread and the on the table there that evening ... Luke emphasizes something else ...
Something else that was there on the table that night.
Did you perchance notice what it was when Howard read the lesson?
“But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.”
What’s that “other thing” that is there on the table ... along with the bread and the wine ... that Luke wants us to see???
It that’s there’s HANDS ... HUMAN HANDS ... there are hands upon the table ... the hands of the disciples ... the hands of his friends and followers ... are with him on the table ... and in particular ... there’s the hands of a certain someone who is about to betray the Lord!
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But which hand did Jesus mean when he said “the betrayer’s hand is with him at the table”?
Surely ... he meant the hand of Judas that was there upon the table ... didn’t he?
You know ... Judas ... the one who had already cut a deal with the authorities to try and force the issue.
Judas ... the one who thought he could make the kingdom of God arrive at his own timing ... rather than God’s timing ... by making Jesus finally reveal himself for who he really was.
Judas ... with one hand on the table and the other one below it ... clutching a small leather bag stuffed with silver coins.
It must have been Judas' hand he spoke of when he said, "Behold, the hand of one who betrays me is with me on the table." OR WAS IT???
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Look again ... and consider another set of hands that were there upon the table that night.
Aren't those Peter's hands over there?
Big, twisted fisherman hands ... calloused hands ... workman’s hands. Hands that still reek of nets and boats and fish.
Peter's hands are there on the table also ... and tonight he too is going to betray his teacher.
Three times he's going to say "You must be wrong ... I never knew him".
Maybe Jesus wasn't JUST thinking of Judas. Maybe Jesus was speaking of Peter as well.
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And ... if I’m not mistaken ... the disciple Matthew’s hands are on that table that night.
Look at Matthew's fingers. Do you see how they begin to fidget on the table?
He can't help but wonder who the betrayer might be ... after all ... he knows full well about deceit and disloyalty and double dealing..
His hand is soft and clean as it lays upon the table ... because his hand is one that spent years raking coins across the desk top when he worked as a Roman tax-collector.
His fingers are nimble from all the sorting as he counted:
"One for you, one for me, one for you, two for me, one for you, three for me ..."
Now Matthew's fingers play upon the table, anxiously drumming out what Matthew knows too well ... that given the right circumstances and the right amount of cash ... he has it in himself to betray just about anyone to anyone.
Matthew's hand is with those of Judas and Peter ... on the table.
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All those hands upon the table. James and John’s hands. Andrew’s hand. Thomas’s hand. So many different hands. And not just their hands ... our hands too.
∙ The hands of a woman who’s washed one too many dishes.
∙ The hands of a man who’s commuted one too many miles.
∙ The hands of a Grandpa who longs to hold his newborn grand-daughter ... but can’t because of COVID.
∙ The hands of a Grandma who wishes that her hands worked like they used to ... before that awful pain of arthritis set in.
∙ The hands of an anxious student who is about to use her hands to grasp a pencil and take a test ... that will ... in large measure ... decide her life’s direction.
Tired hands. Wrinkled hands. Small hands. Trembling hands.
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Jesus took the bread into his hands ... and blessed and broke it ... and gave it into their hands ... saying "This is my body ... given for you."
Judas was there ... and Peter and Matthew. All of us ... the betrayers ... the broken ones ... the exhausted ones ... the ones who don’t understand. The last ... the lost ... the little ... the least. To us he gives bread. To us he gives himself. INTO OUR HANDS. “This is my body.”
You know ... perhaps the greatest betrayal is not that we sell him out ... or deny ever knowing him.
Perhaps our greatest betrayal is when we refuse to receive him ... who gives himself so readily into our hands ... who comes to us as a gift.
Jesus is the gift. He himself is given.
He gives himself into our hands whenever we share that meal.
Along with bread and wine ... he gives himself to us.
“TAKE AND EAT” ... Jesus says ... “THIS IS ME ... FOR YOU.”
"This is my body," he says to those who would betray him ...
AND HE GAVE HIMSELF INTO OUR HANDS.