A Maundy Thursday reflection
Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
1 Corinthians 12
The story of this night has a weight to it that I feel in my body. I hear Judas offer to betray Jesus for money and hope that this time, he’ll make a different choice, he’ll realize his error before it’s too late.
I hear Jesus’ instructions to keep awake, and hope that this time, the disciples will manage to wipe the sleep from their eyes and keep awake, watch and pray.
I hear Peter insist he will never deny Jesus and hope that this time, he’ll succeed, he’ll manage to stand up for Jesus at least one of the three times people ask him if he’s with Jesus.
I hear the religious authorities plot and scheme, and hope that this time, they’ll tend the flames of the faith, rather than just worship the ashes of it.
I know, of course, how the story goes, I know it hasn’t been rewritten since the last time we marked this Holy Thursday. But in my body, the betrayals, the lies, and the deception falls afresh on me every year. And remind me of the ways I betray, the ways I deny, the ways I deceive. The ways I have been betrayed, been denied, been deceived.
It is in the midst of this very human behavior that Jesus eats a meal with his friends. The ones who will betray, deny, and fall asleep. Jesus invites the people he loves to come to the Table, even as he names the breach of trust that happens on this night. If we forget the wounds that come on this night, it is easier for us to also forget the ways we wound, the ways we self forget our harm.
Take, eat. This is my body.
I don’t know how it is for you, but I’ve been thinking about my own body more lately, as it ages and as it doesn’t respond quite as quickly from injury. And I’m aware of how I often feel disconnected from my own body. I refer to my knee, which is often the location of my aches and pains, as if it were separate from me, not connected to me. I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘that stupid knee. Why is it giving me so much trouble?’
I’m trying, instead, to consider my knee as a beloved part of my body.
Paul spoke about my knee, specifically, in 1 Corinthians 12:
If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the knee, ‘I have no need of you.’ (Marci Glass Revised Standard Version)
And sometimes I think the church has made the Eucharist too removed from our bodies. We have memorialized the event in a way that allows us to forget that Jesus was crowded in at a table with the bodies of the people he loved, the people who would betray, the people who failed the person they loved.
We say, ‘remember me’ as if we just need to call him to our mind, to recall our memories. Remember means to re-member, to bring back to bodily shape. To re-form the body.
When we gather at the table, we gather in our bodies. Bodies that ache from old football injuries. Bodies that hold a loved one as they die. Bodies that dance. Bodies that need more sleep than they get. Bodies that need access to clean drinking water, and food, and healthcare. Bodies that cuddle and comfort crying babies. Bodies that play kickball and bodies that are assisted by canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. Bodies that are at risk from gun violence, disease, and car accidents.
When we think of communion as only a time to remember, we deny the experiences of the bodies that come to the Table. When we memorialize the meal, we deny the needs of the bodies that come to the Table.
On this holy night, as we re-member the gift of a meal that took place in the midst of betrayal and loss, I invite you to think about the needs of the Body of Christ today. Notice the bodies that aren’t here with us, and be aware of the way systems of race and privilege and politics keep us separated, even at this meal where we celebrate our unity in Christ.
Paul also said of the Body of Christ,
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
And as we go out into the night to prepare for what is still to come in this Holy Week, may we re-member the needs of the bodies we encounter. The bodies that have been betrayed and the ones that can’t stay awake because they are working 2 jobs. Remember the bodies who aren’t going to the doctor because they can’t afford the medical bills. Remember the bodies facing discrimination because of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, age, politics, or class. Remember the bodies who feel alone and forgotten. Their bodies are our bodies. If we forget the truth of that, we have forgotten what happened on this night.
In the celebrating of this meal, may our bodies be reminded of our connections to each other. May our lives reflect that connection. We are the body of Christ.
While I don’t quote the book in this sermon, A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches by Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia W. Mount Shoop, informed much of it.