And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The dominant theme of Maundy Thursday is the institution of the Eucharist. And since the Eucharist is the very center of the Church’s life -- the means by which we partake of the flesh and blood of Christ -- Maundy Thursday is all “about unity” . Because the Eucharist that we commemorate and celebrate this evening is itself “the sacrament...of union with God and the unity of all mankind” . But, as we will find in our Gospel’s account of the Last Supper, this unity is a strange one.
Liturgically speaking, Maundy Thursday is the night on which we gather with the disciples in the upper room for the Last Supper. It is the last meal that our Lord will share with them before his agony in the garden and subsequent betrayal. And in this sense, Maundy Thursday is about the end. But it’s not exactly the end of Christ’s life with his death on the cross -- that’s what we’ll commemorate tomorrow on Good Friday. We’re not there yet. Instead, Maundy Thursday is about the end of Christ’s fellowship with most all of his disciples: the end that is represented most scandalously by Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s threefold denial.
So Maundy Thursday demands that we pause and hold ourselves in this moment. It bids us to contemplate the fact that the Eucharist was instituted on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. A stunning contradiction, at first glance. The very basis of our unity as the Church is established in the context of disunity. The fellowship of love alongside the rupture of sin.
“But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” In a way, this little statement sums up the essence of Christ’s entire mission on earth. By coming into the world as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was setting out to maintain his perfect obedience to the Father while in the closest proximity with those who would ultimately reject him; indeed, he reveals his love most fully in his embrace of that rejection. The Cross simply is his embrace of that rejection. But tonight, we see that Jesus is the one who breaks bread with the one who will betray him. The broken bread of fellowship becomes the broken body of the forsaken.
Maundy Thursday is therefore about unity and about sin at the same time. On the one hand, the Eucharist reveals to us that “the ultimate unity of people is only to be found in God, and the real God is only to be found in unity between people” . “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?,” St. Paul asks the Corinthians; “the bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In other words, it is through the sharing of the bread and wine that the Eucharist becomes a sacrament; the Body and Blood of Christ are really present in the Eucharist “because the Eucharist is the sign of our unity” . And it is the sign of our unity because “we all partake of the one bread.”
On the other hand, however, bread is not shared until it isbroken, just as the love of Christ for the life of the world is not fully revealed until it is nailed to the cross. The sacrament of our unity and fellowship contains within itself the failure of our enmity and betrayal. But beyond that, you’d have to be pretty out of touch to think that the unity that we share in the Eucharist is one that is fully realized in the here and now. Just look around! We’ve hardly arrived at the ultimate unity of people in God -- which isn’t something we could even achieve on our own in the first place -- but the distance that remains between the present discord of humanity and its unity in God is simply the distance of sin. Which is why Maundy Thursday is just as much about sin as it is about unity. Indeed, the fact the Eucharist is a sacrament -- a sign -- is precisely what reminds us that the unity and fellowship it signifies is not yet fully established. It is a sign of the fellowship that is to come because that fellowship has not come yet; nor will it come until the final redemption of all things in Christ. Because, again, remember that this fellowship wasn’t fully realized on the night of this first Eucharist either. As we proclaim at every mass, it was “in the night in which he was betrayed” that “he took bread.” Our sin and our betrayal define the occasion on which their remedy is given -- “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.”
So this is indeed a strange unity that we share together on this Maundy Thursday. It surpasses all our understanding. But that the whole point of the Eucharist and the Church alike. The unity we celebrate tonight is therefore the unity that is to come. This unity is present with us even now, just as Christ is present to us at the altar, but because it is a sacramental presence, this unity remains a mystery. For that is just what a sacrament is: a mystery of what will one day be revealed in full. Until then, this “feast of friendship takes place in the shadow of the cross,”  and thus the only unity that is available to us is found on the way of the cross.
Soon, we will celebrate this sacrament of our unity one last time before the victory of the Easter Vigil. Like every other mass, we will be united together again as the Body of Christ. But this mass will be different because afterwards, we will strip the altars where we partake of our Lord. We will remove all the sacred indications that our fellowship with Christ will continue on in this space as before. Our unity with him will become bound to a single moment, just as it did in the upper room with Christ and his disciples. We call it the Last Supper for a reason. From here on out, we have to actually hope that the glory of Christ will return to us in victory. That the fragmentation of our betrayal and sin will be restored into the unity of divine love. Will the fellowship that is already corrupted by the betrayal in Judas’ heart be made whole? Can the brokenness with which we break this bread be made whole? This Eucharist of Maundy Thursday anxiously waits for the answers; it anxiously waits for its own vindication. Amen.
 Herbert McCabe. "Holy Thursday: The Mystery of Unity." God Matters.