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Maundy Thursday - A Last Meal

On his last night on earth Jesus shared the Passover meal with his friends, his companions on the way. “... the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (Maundy Thursday Exodus 12:1-5, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; and John 13:1-17, 31b-35.)

Many of life’s most significant moments happen around the table – the family kitchen table, the extended family picnic or bar- be-que, the romantic meal at a restaurant, or the state banquet. And much of Jesus’ ministry and teaching seems to have been connected with sharing food and drink: turning water into wine at the wedding banquet, feeding the five thousand who had come to hear him teach, eating openly with prostitutes and tax collectors, and eating and talking with nervous Pharisees by cover of night.  And now at the end he spends his last night with his disciples, his companions on the way, at table.

 

To spend his last night with his companions would have been tender and encouraging enough. But this was not just any meal. They were in Jerusalem for the Passover, for the remembering of the formation story of the chosen people – the journey from oppression and slavery to liberation and abundance in the promised land. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account the last meal is the Passover meal. And in John’s account it is the evening before the Passover, making it even clearer that John understood Jesus to have been the Passover lamb killed on the day of Passover. Having heard the recounting of that original Passover meal we are to understand that Jesus declared that he was becoming the heart and soul of the meal they were eating. The covenant that declared God’s ongoing faithfulness was being made new in his flesh and blood: that he was the food that would sustain the people on the way to liberation, that his blood about to be spilt would be the cup of redemption.

 

This earlier religious ritual does not lessen the significance and transformative way of understanding  communion among people and between humanity and divinity. Indeed understanding the last meal together as the Passover meal amplifies and radicalises the gift of breaking bread together! We are invited into companionship with the One who teaches us the way of liberation and compassion, wisdom and surrender to grace, trust in the wilderness and the compass of holy longing. We are invited into simple domestic connection and find ourselves in the embrace of the divine heart of all that is. We are invited into the familiarity of food and drink and find ourselves undone, restored and reorientated by the mystery of love that overcomes hate, hope that meets fear, and life that emerges out of death.

 

On this night the radically inclusive table fellowship of Jesus becomes the very gateway to belonging, to being sustained for the journey, and for sharing union at unspeakable depth in simple ways of sharing – truly communion.

 

Jesus was known for his everyday table hospitality – who he ate with, where he ate and how he ate.  He was known as being inclusive, enjoying his food and drink with others so much that he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.  It is hard for us to realise today how often he scandalised people of his time and place by these choices. Many of the people he ate with were ritually unclean by their occupation or disease and he was questioned about the cleanliness of his disciples.  He provided food for those who came to hear him teach in ways miraculous and reminiscent of Moses praying for manna in the wilderness. And on his last night he broke bread with those who would soon betray, deny and abandon him. It was not a banquet of victory but a last meal of sorrow and love, of remembrance and courage for the unknown, a promise that in the central familiar celebration of identity and fidelity was a new covenant of renewal and reconciliation.

 

And because of this last meal Jesus has left us a way of remembering and celebrating his life and death and his resurrection, of making real his presence with us as we seek to follow and live out our passion. From the beginning this meal became the gathering place for the hopeful and the almost hopeless, the committed and certain alongside the curious and desperate, and the sustaining habit of the faithful. Tonight we are grateful for the comfort of familiar touch and words as we seek to delay going into the night and the demands of the next few days.

 

Even so, come dear Lord Jesus Christ, come stay with us a little longer as we grieve all that is to come and then grant us the courage to go into the world you love.

You may like to read what I have written on previous years. I have chosen different themes to reflect on over the years. Please choose what suits you and your circumstances. You can also read ahead if you need to for Good Friday and Easter Day.





 

 

 

 

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