“One of his disciples – the one whom he loved – was reclining next to him.” John 13:23
Every time someone enters St. John’s, an encounter with today’s passage from the Gospel of John awaits. Directly in a person’s line of vision as he or she walks into the sanctuary is the largest stained-glass window in the church, the one located above the altar. It’s a depiction of the Last Supper. The figure of Jesus can be seen at the head of a table, around which he and the disciples sit. The disciple “reclining next to him” is John, the saint for whom our church is named and the author of the gospel that inspired the scenes in these stained-glass windows.
In the gospel reading for today, Simon Peter wants to know of whom Jesus refers when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” He asks John, possibly the disciple with the closest relationship to Jesus, to find out. John complies with the request, and Jesus responds by dipping a piece of bread into a dish and handing it to Judas Iscariot. The betrayer is revealed. He is revealed in our stained-glass window, too. Have you ever noticed him? One of the disciples seated near Jesus looks away from the group. Is that him? No, the stained-glass artisans in Chartres, France who designed the window had another figure in mind. How can we tell which one? Look closely beneath the table. Have you ever seen the yellow cat crouching there? The cat is looking toward and crouching very near the disciple seated at the lower right of the table. That is Judas. The cat figure is a symbol—a signal—that treachery is afoot. At our house, a mischievous, yellow cat named Felix represents tranquility and contentment around the dining table when he is present. Not here. What follows for Jesus is suffering, abandonment, and a brutal death. Our Last Supper window depicts the pivot point where Jesus goes from being enveloped by a community to being a solitary outcast.
That the window is located above the altar, above the place where the Eucharistic feast is prepared, is also symbolic. At the end of today’s passage, Jesus tells his friends, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” He’s going to pass through the Shadow of Death, but Jesus knows that will not be the end, for him or for his disciples. Every time we approach the altar to partake of the Eucharist, we acknowledge and celebrate that fact. By taking the bread and wine, we confirm our identities as followers and children of the Risen Lord. Therefore, make sure to always contemplate both the Last Supper window and the altar below it when you find yourself at St. John’s. Together, they constitute the glorious, mystical reality that ignites our faith.
Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 70, John 13:21-32