A Maundy-Thursday Meditation
Imagine with me a moment. The day is dark; evil is at hand. It has been there a long time but in recent days it’s gotten much worse. The day of captivity, the time of enslavement, the brutal reign of Pharaoh demanding more and more of the people while providing less and less for them. The people of God, of Yahweh, the inheritors of Abraham, captive and enslaved, beaten and abused, nothing more than convenient property really. Forgotten. Forgotten by all. Forgotten by God? God, the One with whom they are in constant covenant, now, seemingly He has forgotten them. But, He is also the Deliverer, and the One who remembers. He remembers them, and delivers them. Moses. Moses plucked from the river, raised by royalty, rejected because of murder, wanderer of the desert, now shepherd, now chosen and commissioned by God, sent back, sent home, sent to deliver the people. Moses confronts Pharaoh. Pharaoh will have none of it. Pharaoh hard of heart and mind; Pharaoh must be convinced. Plagues. Locusts, frogs, blood filled river, death. Death of the first born of all Egypt, Except for the first born of Israel, designated by the blood of a lamb upon the door post. Death passes over them. Spared. Remembered. And now, free. Free to leave. Delivered from captivity and enslavement. Delivered from Egypt. Delivered, no longer to be beaten and abused. Remembered by the One who never forgets. And now, they will remember; remember the Passover, the deliverance.
Year after year gathering at table with intimate family in a meal of remembrance. Each element of the meal carries deep meaning, more than just symbolism, but real meaning. Bitter herbs are used to remember the bitterness of slavery; each element reminding them of specific elements of the great story of deliverance. Scriptures read to remember the details of their story and God’s story of deliverance. It is a meal that becomes a tradition; a tradition that binds them together as a people; a people who remember who they are through the sharing of this meal.
Generations pass, but the meal continues to be celebrated. Year after year the meal continues to define, remind, convince, unite them as a people passed over, delivered, remembered. Until that time, when once again the people are under oppression, not quite enslaved, but certainly not free. Occupied in their own land. Occupied in their own temple. Occupied by a power much greater than they. Oppressed. Wondering once again, if God has forgotten them. Isn’t there supposed to be a Messiah? A new deliverer? The Temple, the people, threatened by overwhelming force. Fear settles in. And yet, in the yearly meal there is hope.
And that Hope comes in a new way; embodied in an unlikely itinerant preacher-teacher-miracle worker. The stories have gone around all the towns and villages. This Jesus has said and done amazing things; things that mystify and often confuse. Yet, things that give hope that He might be this new Messiah, this new deliverer. He is celebrated and feared wherever he goes. He speaks directly to the religious elite; often in confrontational ways, indicting them as hypocrites, pointing out their failures and pointing everyone to God; who He strangely calls ‘Father’ even ‘Abba.’ This Jesus, with his 12 friends, and at least 70 others that follow him everywhere, is saying and doing things that would get most people killed… He arrives in Jerusalem with great fanfare, he enters the temple, clears it – for a moment anyway, and there’s clearly something deeply symbolic in that, almost a sense of return, or of coming home. Jesus, embodying hope, gathers his friends for the meal of remembrance, for the Passover.
Gathered with friends to celebrate and remember. The Passover, its format a bit rigid, defined, unopen to new interpretation, following its orderly process of cups and bread and food and scriptures read, no deviation. This Passover with Jesus at the head of the table is indeed, reinterpreted, redefined, renewed in, through, and according to this Jesus. He takes the overly familiar and remakes into a new remembrance. His body. His blood. A new covenant. A new deliverance.
Surely those at the table with Jesus initially thought of this as a ‘meal of sorrows.’ It certainly wasn’t what any of them expected. Jesus’ body, broken? Jesus’ blood, shed? A betrayer at their table? Surely this has become a meal of sorrows. This is not like any Passover any of them had ever celebrated before. Where is the joy? Where is the hope? Where is the remembrance in this meal? Slowly, perhaps, very slowly, they come to understand that at the center of the meal is the full presence of Jesus. Mysterious in its essence, yet in Jesus there is hope. In Jesus there is joy. In Jesus there is a remembrance that compels us to look forward in anticipation of God’s full victory! For Jesus is not just a messiah come in the name of the Lord; He is the Lord who is messiah come to deliver. Jesus, incarnate God, come to do for humanity what humanity could never do for themselves. A new Passover. A new deliverance. A new meal to celebrate.
Yes, a new meal, where we remember more than just deliverance from captivity and slavery and bondage to earthly powers but deliverance from sin, and death, and spiritual captivity; a meal in which we experience a reality of new life, abundant and eternal. A meal that simply through our participation in it we simultaneously remember and proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus; we remember and proclaim that in Jesus there is hope and new life, we remember and proclaim that in Jesus there is forgiveness of sin and freedom from captivity, we remember and proclaim that Jesus is not dead He is alive!
This is not a meal of sorrows! It is a meal of remembrance and proclamation of Jesus, God incarnate, come to deliver. This meal has been called, ‘the bread-breaking’ not just an eating together, but a remembrance that the breaking of the bread was to remind us of the broken body of Jesus. We sometimes call it communion, from the word koininia, meaning ‘The sharing,” a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus and ‘Holy’ to remind us of the special, even sacred nature of this meal. Most often around the world it is called the ‘Eucharist’ meaning, simply, ‘Thank You.’