Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

“NIGHT”

Text:  1 Corinthians 11:23-26

           Psalm 30:4-12

      “….on the night when he was betrayed….”  Those familiar words we remember over and over

again, even this day, in the full light of a late spring morning.  “…the Lord Jesus on the night when

he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said….” 

These “words of institution,” we call them, occur four times in our New Testament; in three of the

four gospels, and of course in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church that we just read.  Paul

retells the story of that night in the upper room – even though he himself was not physically there

[he may have heard the story from Peter] --and institutes or codifies for the church a liturgical

framework within which the blessed sacrament would be celebrated as a perpetual remembrance

of our Lord.

      What we remember in part is the night piece of the story; “on the night when (Jesus) was be-

trayed (He) took a loaf of bread…..”  On our church’s liturgical calendar, we call it “Maundy

Thursday;” the Thursday before Easter and the twilight of Jesus’ ministry, as He remained passion-

ately obedient to His Father in heaven, and faithful to His mission upon the earth.That word

maundy derives from the Latin word mandatum; something mandated or required.  The church

typically responds to this mandate of remembrance in the evening hours of that pre-Easter Thurs-

day, as we are told that after breaking the common bread, and sharing the common cup, Jesus

and His disciples went out into the darkness, to the garden called “Gethsemane.”  And it was night.

    Night sometimes comes like a heavy curtain; and with the night come dreams [not always

sweet ones]; with night come fears, anxieties, flights of the imagination.  Night is when we stare at

the ceiling; when our brains won’t turn off; when our minds are going.  Night is when Jesus goes

out and prays ardently.  Night is nonetheless when the disciples fall asleep for fatigue of body and

heaviness of heart – despite Jesus’ request that they stay awake with Him a spell.  Night is when

most of us retreat to our homes and families; put to rest our busy day; deal with our fatigue of

body; perhaps our heaviness of heart.

      Out into that night creeps Judas Iscariot, symbol of darkness; of hidden schemes and evil

treachery.  In Corinthians, Paul doesn’t mention his name, assuming Paul even knew about him.  In

fact, the word “betrayed”  we find in most translations could be rightly rendered on the night

Jesus was handed over.”  Either way, the heaviness of the night and its features of guile, infidelity,

violation of trust remain central to the story and to Paul’s institution of the remembrance meal. 

Yet our minds tend to skip over this feature, waiting to hear of the broken bread and the poured

cup; ready to receive again the promise of salvation through the broken body and out poured blood

of Christ; ready to pray and recommit ourselves to His witness and work.  But all that which we

remember happened at night; in the valley of shadows; on the darkest night of Jesus’ soul.

      Isn’t it true that for most of us, night is the time of shadows and fears?  If we find ourselves

afraid, it’s usually at night.  Have we ever heard things that go bump in the dayChildren often

fear the dark and usually want a light left on in the bedroom or hallway.  Night was a frightening

time for your pastor as a child.  I used to experience what are now called “night terrors.”  In the

darkness of night, a dread would come over me.  Unlike some who have described these terrors as

the room seeming to close in on them, I had the sense that space was opening into a vast murky

gloom, just beyond which dwelt the demons of my childish imagination.  And I sometimes stayed

up all night, waiting for the first rays of dawn.  We adults sometimes need the TV to help us fall

asleep, giving us a comfort that in its projected light, we are not all alone with our fears.  

      When we think about the story of the night of the Last Supper, which we remember and

rehearse in the full light of morning, could we not say that it provides a mixture of images of

darkness and light?  There were the disciples reclined at table, in the very presence of the One

who declared Himself “light of the world;” many of whom were, spiritually-speaking, still in the

dark.  That night, they followed Jesus from the candle-lit upper room to the darkness of Gethse-

mane; falling asleep in its murky gloom.  There is Jesus, leaning against a rock in prayer -- as artists

have depicted it -- seeking the illuminating presence of God His Father with every fiber of his

physical and spiritual being; crying out for light even under the heavy blanket of night.

     On this morning, we remember that on that night, Jesus had brought and sanctified a special

meal to and for them…..to and for us, for perpetuity.  On that night, He communed with them;

washed their feet; instructed them and prayed for them; encouraged them and counseled them

in their grief and sorrow; brought light to their darkness.  He invited.  He fed.  He interceded.  And

even as they slept, He forgave.

      Communion.  The broken bread and the common cup; the symbols of our brokenness and of

Jesus’ promise.  And in the light of this morning, we remember the night which has passed, and

the new day which has dawned.  As we come to the Lord’s table on this Lord’s Day, what fears

might be assailing us?  What anxieties might be filling our minds and hearts?  Do we find our-

selves stumbling in what feels like deep darkness in our spirits, searching desperately for that

sliver of light to give us hope and promise?  Perhaps we’re dealing with some physical burden.

Many of us are struggling with grief which clings like darkness to the night.  We may be dealing

with a dark night of the soul where our faith journey is concerned; feeling as if God is far off

beyond a vast gulf of darkness wherein dwell the demons of our imagination.  At this table, and

in the elements which sit upon it, our Lord says:  Have no fear.  I am with you.  I am the light

which dispels darkness.  I am the dawn of a new day which breaks upon the horizon.  I come to

lift the heavy curtain of night, and with it the fears, the anxieties, the dreaded flights of imagi-

nation which cause us to toss and turn. 

    “…on the night when he was betrayed…”  On that night, Jesus communed with His disciples,

as on this morning, Jesus communes with us.  On that night, the disciples communed with one

another, as this morning, we commune with one another.  On that night, Jesus assured Hi

disciples to fear not, for He would be with them forever, as on this morning, Jesus reminds us

of the same through the blessed sacrament.  The night has passed.  The day has dawned.  Let us

at table celebrate that the darkness has been dispelled, and the true light of the world has

come.