Maundy Thursday

March 28, 2013


I Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 22:7-20


We want to walk to the tomb on Sunday morning with the women who would first announce that it was empty.

We want to leave our Easter celebrations with the affirmation “Christ is risen” not only on our lips but in our hearts.

We want to show in our lives and in our congregation what it means to be resurrection people in the days that follow.

Last Sunday I suggested that we will be better equipped for these tasks if we take our time as we move from Palm Sunday to Easter.

Slowing down, we watched as Jesus entered Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowd after three years of teaching and healing, in the midst of increasing conflict and threat. What we saw was commitment—Jesus embracing all that life brought him and continuing to pursue what he understood to be his purpose in the world: bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and announcing the time of God’s favor.

In the celebration of the Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we didn’t need to rush to the events that we remember tonight. We knew that the path to Easter would take us through this night of remembrance and betrayal.

As we did on Palm Sunday, tonight we slow down. We don’t tell the whole story, for the story of a shared meal followed by betrayal and arrest is sufficient for this day. And we will take our time in telling this.

Meals should not be rushed.

I remind myself of this from time to time. Running late I pull up to the drive-through window and get my meal in a bag. I drive away eating a burger, telling myself: “Meals should not be rushed.”

Jesus says to Peter and John: “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, that we may eat it.”

Jesus calls not for rush but for deliberate action. His followers will seek out the ingredients: the wine, the lamb, the bread, the bitter herbs. They will prepare a place to eat. Jesus, Peter, John and many others in Jerusalem will eat this meal remembering. They will remember that originally the people did eat this meal on the run.

The Hebrew people moving out of Egypt were told “eat this meal with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you shall eat it hurriedly.” Their descendants would eat this meal through all generations. So once again last Monday evening, our Jewish neighbors ate this meal, remembering God’s everlasting covenant with them: “I shall be your God and you shall be my people.”

The Passover began on the run—like so many of our own meals.

As Jesus and his friends gather in an upper room, however, this meal is eaten in leisure. Reclining around the table, the Jewish people could remember that once they were harried slaves. Taking their time they could see more clearly who they were and what God had done.

Eating the meal that night were real people:

Judas, who would soon betray Jesus;

Peter, James, and John—members of the inner circle of disciples who would soon be sleeping while Jesus prayed in anguish;

Other disciples who would leave when everything went sour.

And there was Jesus, a human being like the rest of them, like you and me. Flesh and blood who welcomed Judas and Peter and James and the others to his table.

Meals shouldn’t be rushed. We rush to finish. In our freedom we have become slaves to the clock. We forget ourselves. We forget our God. When we take the time to eat together we can rediscover ourselves and our God.

We sense a deep longing in Luke’s story of this meal that Jesus shares with those who follow him. This meal is different from those meals in the homes of tax collectors and sinners that Luke recounts. It is different from that feeding of several thousand people with just a few loaves and fish.

Listen as Jesus speaks: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

We sense a deep longing in our coming here tonight as well.

We desire something that already is, and yet is not.

We long to know that our personal live, our congregation—and indeed our world—can find some kind of redemption.

We long to know that “it will be all right:”

            That our growing old will not end in despair and loneliness.

            That the healing we seek will come.

That God will, in the words of the Psalmist, grant us our heart’s desire.

            That the love we have given will not come back empty.

Maybe in a glance, in a touch, we recognize that the longing in others matches our own.

Here at the Table our longing and the longing of God meet.

We hear the familiar words. We remember them, for we have heard them so often. We can say them “by heart”—from our heart.

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Tonight, take your time as we eat and drink. These actions—taking bread, sharing the cup—these actions tell the meaning of the death of Jesus in a way that nothing else can. Paul tells us that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Like a handshake or a kiss, the action speaks without words.

Meals should not be rushed. Take your time—in gathering at this table we see anew that we are a part of the one body of Christ—drawn in our deep longing to the Christ who longs for communion with us.

On this night Jesus gives a new commandment—that we should love one another. It isn’t really new, for the Jewish people knew those words for centuries before Jesus. But as we listen, the words seem fresh. And his commandment makes it seem possible to do just that—to love in the same way, with the same strength which with we have been loved.

On this night Jesus gave the bread and the cup as happened at other meals. “Do this,” he said, “Remembering me.” And maybe we can love one another, live humbly with each other as we eat and drink together.

It is the risen Christ who still calls us to this table and meets us here who gives us the power to follow in his way.

Tonight, we come again to this table. We come not only to remember what happened in the distant past but also to look forward to the future that God is creating even as we participate in that future now.

We bring to this Table much that would tempt us to cautiously withdraw from all that is offered:

the awareness that we have betrayed the love of God shown in Jesus, that we have been found asleep, that we have not been there when we were needed;

problems at home, uncertainties at work, worries at school, anxieties about tomorrow;

our uneasiness with a world filled with poverty, violence, and warfare;

a sense that there’s never enough, that we always need more.

We also bring to this meal memories of times when our cup was filled to overflowing:

joy that we found in loving and being loved;

hope that came when it life got better after a long period of setbacks;

the awareness that day does follow night, spring does follow winter,

the faith that God does provide for all our needs

 and that we can look ahead with anticipation to the future.

And we find—perhaps to our surprise—that we are welcomed here by the Christ, who welcomes all.

Take bread, for in this meal that bread is the body of Christ that sustains us.

Share the cup, for this cup is the new covenant, poured out for many—for me, for you, for the people in front, in back, and beside you.

The love of God in Christ is continually poured out for us. At all times God cares for that which God created. Receive all that is offered, for this is why Jesus came:

that we might have life

            and have it abundantly

and generously share all that we have received from the generous hand of God.

If we take our time—with this meal, with any meal—we begin to see what the eye cannot see.

With our eyes opened to the continuing reality of God’s self-giving love, we can find the strength to go into the world again, as disciples ourselves, facing the evil, the illness, the death we encounter—knowing that we eat with one who faced all of this before and still offers us life.