Thought for the Month (March 2016)

Dear Friends,

As I am writing this, Christmas is still a few days away but when you read it we will be edging towards Easter.

For many families both these Christian Festivals provide opportunities to spend time together, the longer school holidays allow for journeys to visit parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles.

As Christmas approaches, gifts are already wrapped and the food is ordered to be picked up on Christmas Eve. Seating plans and extra table and chairs sorted. But one problem still has to be sorted are there enough plates, dishes, knives, forks and spoons?

When we first become independent and start to furnish our own homes we may start with a small amount of crockery and cutlery, perhaps a starter set of two plates, two bowls, two mugs (gone are the days of cups and saucers) but as circumstances change and an additional mouths have to be fed a complete dinner service, enough for six may find its way onto shelves. As the children arrive so do plastic plates and bowls until they too can eat without the crockery landing on the floor!

In time, plates get chipped or broken and we now have missing bowls, cups, odd saucers, so it is time to replace the pieces (if we can find a match) or buy another dinner service with the odd pieces kept in reserve, "just in case."

So over the years we end up with a hotch-potch of plates and bowls, possibly enough to use for twelve or more people but rarely matching so our dinner table can never rival the beautiful settings of Downton Abbey, however much we try to beautify the table with candles and serviettes.

So it always surprises me that when I view paintings of the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his twelve beloved friends, that the plates and goblets match!

When Jesus sent his disciples to find a room for this event, we are not told if it was in an inn or in a private house.

If it was an inn in Jerusalem, I wonder, would the table have been graced with matching crockery or would the inn have used pots produced by the local potter? If a local tradesman supplied them were they of exactly the same shape or even colour? The beauty of hand-thrown pottery is that two pieces are never identical. The Romans had developed glass and possibly this would have been available to the rich but may have been out of the reach of ordinary Jewish folk.

If a fellow follower had been asked to host the supper would he have been able to rustle up thirteen perfect plates and goblets at short notice just before the Passover Feast? Even if this was possible would he have bothered for a supper of friends? How often do we go out and buy a new set of crockery?

People are very much like plates and goblets, all formed by the Potter and fired in the kiln, some cracking and breaking in the process. They are not always perfect and often have blemishes or other design faults.

If we had to host that Supper today, knowing what we know, how would we set the table? For the main Guest, Lord and Saviour, we would use the best plate from our mixed store and the best crystal goblet; for Peter a sturdy large plate and a goblet that would fill his big strong fisherman hands; for Mark perhaps a smaller plate and smaller goblet and for Luke a delicate floral dish. What of Judas, would he get the plate with a chip and the goblet with a crack?

And why should that be so? Jesus said the "one that dips his bread with me will betray me". We assume he meant Judas but Peter also betrayed Jesus three times that night.

On family occasions, the children are warned to be on their best behaviour, don't learn across the table, but in their excitement forget and shout for that special person to pull their cracker or reach out for a pretty cake or morsel, touching the hands and fingers of others in the process.

During the Passover Meal, a time to remember and celebrate the past and the opportunity to chat with friends did others, apart from Judas reach forward and dip their bread in the oil with Jesus, forgetting what Jesus had said, perhaps at the last moment pulling back remembering. But just suppose they shared that oil did they remember and slink out before any one remarked on it?

Our Communion is continually a reminder of that fateful meal, and we reach out and touch the hand of Jesus. The sharing of bread and wine comes after the confession and forgiveness but how soon after leaving the table do we once again break our trust with Him.

Judas is sent on his mission by Jesus and Jesus knew what the outcome would be, but did Judas really know what was happening? Did he think that this was merely a prequel to an uprising of indignant and outraged followers of Jesus, who would insist that their Lord and Master be released? Or was Judas disillusioned by Jesus and felt he had been let down? Or did he think as the other disciples believed that the horror story that Jesus continually warned them of, could never take place; if followers did not intervene, then surely God would reach down and rescue Jesus?

Poor Judas! I feel sorry for him. Yes, I do. Over the years, he has become the scapegoat for us all as the one who betrayed and sold his Master; the one who was cast out and never accepted again; an evil one in the grips of Satan!

When Judas saw what the outcome would be, he tried to put things right. But the Temple authorities laughed and refused to take back the "blood money" in exchange for the release of Jesus. Judas killed himself because of shame, remorse and grief.

Of course as Jesus said "It would be better if he had never been born!" But I don't believe that was because God did not accept his confession and remorse but I believe God would and did forgive him and it is rather that his fellow men, you and I, have never forgiven him.

For if it is not true, that God has damned Judas for eternity, then there is no hope for any of us, for have we not all betrayed our Lord and Master selling him out so that we are not singled out as followers and believers? Have we betrayed and felt shame and remorse for not speaking up in his defence?

If we sat at that table with Jesus today, with our mismatched china from our cupboards, how many of us would receive a chipped plate and cracked goblet and when we jumped up to run from the room, would we too overturn and spill the dark red wine, the blood of Christ, on the table.

Mrs Hazel Brown (Vale Royal Methodist Church)

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church