This compact picture of the Last Supper is filled with a powerful view of God’s love for the Cosmos in Jesus Christ.
On the left-hand side of the picture we see the Beloved Disciple, leaning against Jesus, listening to the very heartbeat of Jesus’ life. At the same time, Jesus stretches out his left hand to offer some of the meal to Judas, who will then immediately go out into the night to betray Jesus to the authorities who will then torture and kill him.
Both of these aspects of the picture, the reclining of the Beloved Disciple on the breast of Jesus and the betrayal by Judas after receiving the morsel from Jesus come from the narrative in the Gospel of John. The way John’s Gospel tells the story, the handing of the morsel to a disciple points out who the betrayer is. But the artist in the St. Alban’s Psalter has gone much deeper than a simple trick of clairvoyance.
Notice Jesus’ right hand: it is held up in blessing, a blessing that includes his beloved friend, whom we identify as John, and Judas, and all those seated at the table with him. By extension, we are meant to understand that God in Christ blesses all – all the people of the world, the world itself, and the universe that contains it. This blessing is irrespective of the worthiness of anyone to receive it.
But look at Judas, how miserable he seems. The piece of bread Jesus hands to him is, in other gospel narratives declared to be Jesus’ body; that is, he has invested himself in it, and in receiving it Judas receives him – Jesus is handing himself over to Judas in this morsel of bread, a foreshadowing of the betrayal that will happen in the same night.
So, while Jesus blesses Judas along with John and the other disciples, and all of us, there is a warning in the picture as well: taking the Body of Christ is not only a blessing but a responsibility. We are each responsible for maintaining the health of the sphere of relationships in which we live. When those relationships are violated we have the responsibility of repairing them.
We take heart, though, for that right hand is forever raised in blessing. The love of God is eternal, and the failing of Judas (and our failings) are temporal. Eternal love continues to provide the opportunities for reconciliation and restoration, forever.