A Maundy Thursday meditation
April 13, 2017
This is the night where all of our theology and traditions and practices as a church come together. Where the rubber meets the road, as they say.
Because this is the night we lift up our praise of God as the psalmist tells us in the 116th psalm—“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people. In the courts of the house of the Lord—in your midst, O Jerusalem—Praise the Lord!”
And we are gathered in the presence of God’s people and we will gather around God’s Table—lifting up the cup of salvation—even as we remember that it was in the courts of the house of the Lord on this night, many many years ago, that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, right after they had eaten a meal together around God’s Table.
What does it mean for us to call ourselves followers of Jesus, to try to be the Beloved Community, when we know that betrayal didn’t come from outside of the family, but from inside?
It is easy to read the gospels and to think, “those evil Romans” or “those unfaithful Jewish leaders”, but we should remember that the ultimate betrayal was from one of his followers, from someone who loved him.
And Jesus knew it too. He knew that Judas would betray him, and yet he still ate dinner with him. He knew Peter would deny him 3 times, and he still invited him to dinner.
Which calls us to respond with trust, with humility, with forgiveness, and ever mindful of the fact that we are called to act as Jesus did. In all we do. And to build community with all people, even when they betray.
Needless to say, that is easier said than done.
The fact that, on some days at least, the job seems impossible, doesn’t mean we aren’t still called to it.
Tonight is NOT the night to say, “getting along with each other is too difficult, so we’re not even going to try.”
This is the night to say, “if Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, can love everyone in the room, than I will do my very best.”
Of course, it is sometimes easier to love the people in the room than to love those who are outside of this room. I look around at our nation and am saddened by the fracturing of our civic and political discourse. How did we get here? How can we get past it? How can we come together?
I look at the news, out of Syria, and Afghanistan, and am saddened. Today should not be the day to give up on diplomatic solutions. It is not the day for bombs and violence. Today is the day to remember Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, saying—“I am among you as one who serves.”
Coming together as the Body of Christ requires the humility of a servant.
The book, A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, elaborates on it this way:
“Being keenly aware of the power dynamics that constituted his world, from betrayal and violence to lies and power, Jesus identified with the “least of these” and aligned himself not with dominance but with the deep woundedness of our condition. He was on the losing side of human power differentials. He suffered at the hands of some of his most trusted friends, and suffered with those on the margins of his community and faith. And faith, community, friendship, and power are what Jesus sought to transform with the way he connected. Even with the violence and betrayal of his last days, he shape-shifted these realities into a healing opportunity.” (Page 68-69)
In Maundy Thursday we experience the beginning of the shape-shifting of violence and betrayal in to redemption and love.
Jesus tells his followers, ’I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
For Jewish communities, the act of remembering around a meal was a familiar act. The Passover dinner every year was a time to remember the great deliverance of God’s people at the Exodus—not to just remember that it happened, but to connect their lives to it today, to see their lives as Exodus lives now.
Luke reminds us that in Passover, “the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed”.
Hint. Hint. Jesus is the lamb.
We are called to remember this Table in the context of sacrifice that leads to deliverance. This Table is the place from which we head to Easter, when we learn that love and life are strongest when they are broken and weak. What defeats death is not might and power. It is love.
“This is my body, broken for you”.
In the prologue to the book I referenced, Marcia Mount Shoop shares a lovely poem. Here’s a small part of it:
Christ’s body, broken for you and me
Our bodies, broken and born
into layers of ambiguity and promise
Bodies are not independent, discrete, cut off
We are enfleshed and entangled with all that is
The blood that flows through our spidering veins
Is the water that laps the shores of lakefronts and oceansides
….There is no body apart from some body
And there is no some body apart from
We share One body…
And His body, the body
who reverberates our distortion
And our redemption
Betrayal and regeneration
The body that scoffs at death and
Defines new birth
His body traveled through a birth canal
And fingered wounds—his and ours
He had eyes to see
And he tasted
our pain and promise
He took bread and ripped it
Into pieces that might feed us
Our bodies, not simply our imagination
But the cells that divide, create, perish, and live
This is my body, broken for you.
Betrayal from within, arguments over meals, and dissension within the ranks—that is the setting for this, our Holiest of Sacraments.
It means that the Lord’s Meal is for people just like us—broken and breaking, wounded and wounding, loved and loving.
We are the body of Christ, and the body of Christ was broken, which means we acknowledge our own brokenness.
So, friends, as we come together for communion tonight, we will be a sign for the world that coming together is possible.
May we be a sign for the world that we take seriously Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us. And with our lives, may we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.
May it be so. Amen
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