By this shall the world know that you are my disciples that you have love for one another.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I need to tell you that I find myself particularly uneasy and uncomfortable this Maundy Thursday. I am also beginning to think that this is the way this night is supposed to make us feel. Maundy Thursday more than any other day is day in tension, a day on the edge at least for the first part of it. We spent the last few Thursdays looking at the passion narratives together and we reminded ourselves that the passion is a drama in four acts: ACT I, the agony in the Garden, Act II the trial before Jewish Authorities, Act III the trail before Pilate and Act IV the crucifixion and Burial. Maundy Thursday and its liturgy end firmly in the garden–the beginning of Act I but it begins with what modern day folk would call a prequel. An alternate theory, which appears to be position of the drafters of the Revised Common Lectionary, at least given this past Sunday’s passion, would have us think that Act I begins not in the Garden but in the Upper Room.
There is tension in the Upper Room as well. And I don’t just mean among the participants and the observers asking themselves, “Is it I who will betray Jesus” and saying to Jesus, “What are you doing trying to wash my feet?” There is tension I believe in the acts themselves. I am particularly convinced of this by the fact that the Synoptic authors Mark, Matthew and Luke, recount the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup, a Passover tradition that Jesus gives new significance while John mentions the meal only in passing and focuses on the foot washing. I have come to wonder if the community of the beloved disciple that John was writing for was at odds not only with their Jewish counterparts who had kicked them out of the synagogue but also with other Christians about what was the true means to commemorate this night on which Christ was betrayed.
This tension for me is exacerbated by the memories of many Maundy Thursdays and the piety and hymnody that accompanied those services.
That last night as supper lying mid the twelve his chosen band
Jesus with the Law complying keeps the feast its rites demand
then more precious food supplying gives himself with his on hand.
Thou who at thy first Eucharist didst pray that all the Church might be forever one
(truly a conflation of the passion Narratives)
One could almost have the impression that the whole purpose of the Word becoming flesh was that so the world and the Church could have a Eucharistic liturgy. There is a temptation to focus so much on the Eucharist that we forget this is a movement into passion. Perhaps that is why there has developed in parts of the Christian tradition a separate series of liturgical observances outside of Passiontide and the Easter season which focus on the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi and the feast of the Precious Blood.
As I think of all this, I am reminded that of the words of Ignatius of Antioch the early Church father whose writings where a large part of my conversion to catholic Christianity. Writing to fellow Christians on his way to martyrdom Ignatius exhorted his brothers and sister to pray that he might be ground by the lion’s teeth as finest wheat that he might become bread for the Eucharist. Ignatius’ words remind me that the purpose of this night is not that we might have Eucharist but that we might be Eucharist – broken, blessed and given for the world. In one of our Eucharistic prayers we recall this truth in these words … “that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose for us.
The question before is, “Are we consumer Christians or servant Christians?”
I am sure you know that word Eucharist comes from the Greek charin Eko meaning to give thanks.
In my teaching across the diocese lately I have been asking the question, “Are we communion people or are we Eucharistic people?”, contrasting the piety that implies that purpose of worship is to come and receive a little bit of Jesus, what one poet described as $5 worth of God not enough to change me but enough to get me through until next week, a thought embodied in the statement I come to church to make my communion, versus a Eucharistic people, a people for whom every act of worship is rooted in Thanksgiving, the act of glorifying and praising God “for all his goodness and loving kindness,… our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life but above all for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.” (BCP; The General Thanksgiving). This thanksgiving is rooted in oblation, the offering of our self to God, and adoration, simply delighting in God’s presence, and from it flows the acknowledgement of our sins and the certainty of God’s forgiveness and our prayers for others and for ourselves.
To be Eucharist is to be a person of Thanksgiving. But this night reminds us that Thanksgiving is more than an attitude of gratitude, although that is necessary, thanksgiving is an embodied act. Jesus takes the bread and blesses the cup and gives. Jesus kneels at the feet of his friends washes their feet and takes the form of a slave. He gives, he serves.
This is Christ’s call this night. This is the vocation of his followers. As the hymns put in best, Strengthen for service Lord that hands that holy things have taken or better still– Come labor on spend and be spent your joy to do the Father’s will. This is the way the master went should not the servant tread it still.
He gives, he serves. He is the model for our life. That’s what I means to call him Lord.
Give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise not only with our lips but in our lives by giving up ourselves to your service and walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days (BCP: General Thanksgiving)