By Howard Gregory
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 26:26-35
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
In the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus externalizes all that he has been seeking to convey to his community about his life, his self-giving mission, and the redemption and victory which it held for them and for humanity. By his actions, Jesus introduces the sacrament which was to recall this sacred act and moment for the Church in every age, while still having significance for the company and moment in which it was instituted.
What the disciples and Christians through the ages are called to remember most in this moment, therefore, is not our sin. Rather it is the sacrifice which has taken away our sins. So we are not called to wallow, to crawl, to be immobilized. But, having confessed, we move on and celebrate the sacrifice of him who was crucified, risen from the dead, and now reigns with the Father.
Having instituted the sacrament, however, Jesus then announces that all will desert him in his moment of greatest agony. Once again denial becomes the dominant theme. Peter takes it further by separating himself from the rest of the company: I don’t know about them but, for myself, I would never do what you are suggesting.
We know the eventual outcome for Peter, with the fulfillment of Jesus’ word and Peter’s deep sorrow which followed. We are reminded also that the resurrected Jesus thrice asks Peter if he loves him, in a way paralleling his failed assertions, and then commissions him to lead his fellow disciples.
One of the realities of life is that it is so easy to see the fault in the other and to be judgmental toward them without recognizing our own vulnerability. Jesus on another occasion shared the parable regarding the ease with which we see the speck in the eye of the other while failing to see the plank in our own. Jesus’ response to Peter is not intended to be a judgment call but a reminder that it is through grace that we are sustained on the journey of faith, and that even when we fail there is the possibility of restoration.
The Most Rev. Howard K. Gregory is Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Archbishop of the West Indies.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
The Diocese of Saint Mark the Evangelist – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa