When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Who do you invite to your dinner table? As Jesus approaches the hour of his death, he gathers around him his most beloved and trusted friends, the twelve disciples. As the darkness gathers beyond that room, Jesus take the time to be present with those to whom he has taught everything he knows. And as one of his final lessons, he breaks bread.
Scholars often point out that, before sex or any other form of “joining together”, meal-sharing has since ancient times been the central expression of unity and intimacy between people. In the Psalms, trust in God is expressed when people gather at table, even in the presence of their enemies. Abraham greets God’s messengers with a meal; worship in the temple is centered around the giving and receiving of God’s generous gift of food to eat and enjoy.
So it isn’t surprising that Jesus would tell his final lesson with the elements of bread and cup. For the last few days, he has again and again told his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, and that he will suffer and die. Again and again, they have struggled to hear his words. He has asked them to pick up their cross and follow him; they have argued over who will be the most powerful.
And so now, as he breaks bread and pours the cup, he reminds them, reminds us, that even at the table of communion we are challenged, for at the table we cannot ignore or pass over the reality of Christ’s suffering. “Take; this is my body….This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to miss the connection between our communion at table and our participation in the journey of the cross. See, it turns out that, when Jesus asked us to pick up a cross and follow him, he meant it. As would-be disciples of the Lord, he asks us to “get busy” doing what Christ did. And as we stand on the edge of Good Friday, we are reminded that if we do as Christ does, we may be punished for it. We may find ourselves abandoned, imprisoned, even put to death.
In their book The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan reflect that Jesus is incredibly consistent in the week leading up to his death. Again and again, he will remind his followers that the Kingdom of God invites particiation–that as disciples, Jesus calls us to serve, to kneel, to follow, to tend. That we cannot have the glory without the struggle that precedes it. That if we are going to walk this path, we need to be willing to “drink the cup” that Christ drank. In other words- if we would call ourselves disciples, then we will find ourselves where Jesus is: in opposition to the powers and principalities of this world, which would prefer that things stay the way they are. And when we place ourselves in the path of empire, we need to be prepared for the possibility that we may get run over. We may endure struggle, suffering, even death.
But when we follow Jesus, we must also remember: we are not alone. We are with Christ.
Maundy Thursday begins with a meal, and ends with a conviction. By the dawn’s light, Jesus will be handed over for a death sentence, his followers will have scattered, Peter will have denied him, Judas will have betrayed him, and Jesus will be alone. The unity of the table will seem to be shattered.
Even from these bones, God will breathe life. For every time we gather at table, we rebuke the darkness and the fear that caused Jesus’ disciples to abandon him. We remember that even those who were afraid were welcomed by Jesus, reconciled and redeemed on Easter morning. We testify to the truth: that being a disciple is HARD work, that we WILL fail, but that God’s love in Christ can transform us.
A Prayer for Maundy Thursday:
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand, I am tired I am weak I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord, take me home.
Holy God, as we stand on the threshold: between the past and the present, between your ministry and your death, between hope and fear, send Your Spirit to be amongst us.
To those of us who are afraid of the cost of discipleship, give us courage.
To those of us who are tempted to flee when the risks become high, console us with the knowledge that you welcome the broken and the fearful into Your arms.
To those of us tempted to sell you out, to give you up, either because we don’t understand Your Kingdom or because we have other ideas, remind us that even the enemy was welcome at the table, and that Christ loves us even at our worst.
To those of us who would condemn you, persecute and even kill you, break our hearts with the compassion that comes from God, and the courage to act humbly and righteously in the midst of a violent and broken world.
And to those who would stand on the fence, taking no sides, convict us. Open our hearts to the knowledge that to do nothing is to choose.
Holy God, help us always to remember this truth: that as often as we love, help, hurt, fear, condemn, and ignore our brother or sister in Christ, we do it to you. May we never forget: the drama of Holy Week is re-enacted every. single. day. Give us eyes to see, and feet to walk the path your Son Jesus Christ walked, then and now.