Is it I, Lord?
While they were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” – Matthew 26:21-22 (NRSV)
At Communion, pastors often point out that a betrayer, a denier, and several deserters ate with Jesus that last night. If he welcomed them, he’ll surely welcome us. Which is true, and good news for all.
But if the presence of sinners at Jesus’ table serves only to reassure us of our worthiness and welcome, we whitewash the church’s memory, glossing over the unsettling scene of a troubled Jesus repeatedly disrupting the evening’s camaraderie to indict his friends: “You will all become deserters.” “One of you will betray me.” “Before morning, you will deny me.”
He didn’t say those things for welcome’s sake. He called them out publicly so that there could be truth in the room. Jesus had eagerly desired to eat the feast with his friends. But he wasn’t about to eat it in denial. Neither should we.
No denial: UCC congregations are overwhelmingly White, and not by accident. Many congregations refuse to face what that means. We who celebrate Communion in White-dominant churches speak easily of the Body and its wholeness, even as our demographics at the table dismember it. Racism eats with us every time we bless and share Christ’s bread. Few of us ask, “Is it I?”
Not all was well as Jesus’ table. He said so. Not all is well at ours. Let’s not pretend. Instead of remembering Jesus in ways that always reassure us, let’s also remember him in ways that call us out, unmask the denial in our mantras of inclusion, and compel us to address the trauma in Christ’s Body with the truth, and nothing but.
Is it I, Lord?
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.