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Maundy Thursday

1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-32) - link to NRSV text
John 13:1-15 - link to NRSV text
Luke 22:14-30 - link to NRSV text

One of my favorite episodes ("One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish") of The Simpsons shows Homer Simpson, the father of the family, eating sushi made with a rare blowfish that, if not prepared properly, is deadly within 24 hours to those who ingest it. After he's eaten the fish, Homer is told that it wasn't prepared as it should have been, and therefore he is a goner within a day. So Homer answers for himself a question I have occasionally asked myself hypothetically: if this were your last day on earth, how would you want to spend it?

I think that asking myself that question is a good gauge of to what extent I'm living into my vocation and my truest self. When I'm most in touch with who I am in Christ, and when my life is expressing that most fully, my answer to the question is that I would, for the most part, do the kinds of things I do anyway: eat a good dinner with my family, let those I love know how deeply I know and love them and how much I want good things for them, engage in meaningful work, enjoy something chocolate and a really good wine.

On Maundy Thursday, we remember the night before Jesus died, and how he chose to spend it. As someone who lived fully, he chose to spend what he knew might be his last night the way he spent his life throughout his public ministry.

In Luke, it is in breaking bread, not only with his friends, but with the one other person in the room who might have anticipated that this night would be Jesus' last: with Judas, the friend whose betrayal Jesus anticipates. Luke has gone out of his way throughout the gospel to show Jesus breaking bread with any who would eat with him, accepting invitations from Zaccheas and the Pharisees who looked down on him, and in throughout Luke's passion narrative, Jesus continues to do what he has done since he returned to Nazareth from his sojourn and temptation in the desert. He heals the ear of the high priest's slave in the garden. He prophesies against the powers that oppress, and speaks of a true and radically different kind of power that lifts the lowly over the mighty. He mourns for the women of Jerusalem. To his last breath, he speaks forgiveness. Throughout, Jesus demonstrates what he teaches his followers at his last meal with them: that in God's kingdom, the greater one is the one who serves.

Was it Bultmann who said that in the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Revealer, and what he reveals is that he is the Revealer? That sells the gospel far short. Jesus' self-revelation in John isn't solely about his status as the Word, the logos, become flesh and living among us; it is that the logos through whom all things were made, the only Son of the Father, shows his glory not by his might but by his service, lifted up not to a throne but on a cross. So on Jesus' last night, he does what he has done all along: he teaches and encourages, and specifically he teaches his followers to do as he does, to love and serve one another as they have been loved and served by him.

I don't know what written sources, if any, Paul had access to as he sought to understand the ministry and character of the one who called him as apostle, but his words in 1 Corinthians 11 show his profound understanding of the heart of Jesus' ministry, and how profound a perversion it is to make use of Jesus' name to humiliate the poor, whom Jesus called "honored" in the Beatitudes. Some of the harshest language we have preserved from Paul shows up in this passage -- and in light of how strong some other passages in Paul's letters are, that's really saying something. Those who eat without "discerning the body," Paul says, eat and drink judgment upon themselves. Actually, I think that phrase has a missing capital, and would be clearer if it said, "discerning the Body." As S. Scott Bartchy has convincingly argued (no references handy, but a good place to start for his views is his article on "table fellowship" in InterVarsity Press' Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, "the body" is one of Paul's two favorite metaphors for what we are in Christ ("brothers and sisters" being the other), and a strong case can be made that when Paul speaks of "discerning the Body" in 1 Corinthians 11, he is talking about discerning the Body of Christ -- i.e., treating all members of Christ's Body with the honor and care Christ shows them.

Jesus lived that message in all he did, in how he lived as much as in how he died. As one who lived his vocation fully, his last night wasn't spent in trying to change course; he spent it helping his followers understand better how best to remember him. And we act in remembrance of Jesus not only when we break bread around the Eucharistic table, but also as we live into the grace of which Eucharist is a sign: our call to love and serve and forgive and Jesus loves and serves and forgives, and Jesus' continuing presence with us to heal and strengthen and encourage us as we strive to do so.

April 3, 2004 in Eucharist, Holy Week, John, Luke | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Maundy Thursday

« Holy Week reflections | Main | Good Friday »

Maundy Thursday

1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-32) - link to NRSV text
John 13:1-15 - link to NRSV text
Luke 22:14-30 - link to NRSV text

One of my favorite episodes ("One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish") of The Simpsons shows Homer Simpson, the father of the family, eating sushi made with a rare blowfish that, if not prepared properly, is deadly within 24 hours to those who ingest it. After he's eaten the fish, Homer is told that it wasn't prepared as it should have been, and therefore he is a goner within a day. So Homer answers for himself a question I have occasionally asked myself hypothetically: if this were your last day on earth, how would you want to spend it?

I think that asking myself that question is a good gauge of to what extent I'm living into my vocation and my truest self. When I'm most in touch with who I am in Christ, and when my life is expressing that most fully, my answer to the question is that I would, for the most part, do the kinds of things I do anyway: eat a good dinner with my family, let those I love know how deeply I know and love them and how much I want good things for them, engage in meaningful work, enjoy something chocolate and a really good wine.

On Maundy Thursday, we remember the night before Jesus died, and how he chose to spend it. As someone who lived fully, he chose to spend what he knew might be his last night the way he spent his life throughout his public ministry.

In Luke, it is in breaking bread, not only with his friends, but with the one other person in the room who might have anticipated that this night would be Jesus' last: with Judas, the friend whose betrayal Jesus anticipates. Luke has gone out of his way throughout the gospel to show Jesus breaking bread with any who would eat with him, accepting invitations from Zaccheas and the Pharisees who looked down on him, and in throughout Luke's passion narrative, Jesus continues to do what he has done since he returned to Nazareth from his sojourn and temptation in the desert. He heals the ear of the high priest's slave in the garden. He prophesies against the powers that oppress, and speaks of a true and radically different kind of power that lifts the lowly over the mighty. He mourns for the women of Jerusalem. To his last breath, he speaks forgiveness. Throughout, Jesus demonstrates what he teaches his followers at his last meal with them: that in God's kingdom, the greater one is the one who serves.

Was it Bultmann who said that in the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Revealer, and what he reveals is that he is the Revealer? That sells the gospel far short. Jesus' self-revelation in John isn't solely about his status as the Word, the logos, become flesh and living among us; it is that the logos through whom all things were made, the only Son of the Father, shows his glory not by his might but by his service, lifted up not to a throne but on a cross. So on Jesus' last night, he does what he has done all along: he teaches and encourages, and specifically he teaches his followers to do as he does, to love and serve one another as they have been loved and served by him.

I don't know what written sources, if any, Paul had access to as he sought to understand the ministry and character of the one who called him as apostle, but his words in 1 Corinthians 11 show his profound understanding of the heart of Jesus' ministry, and how profound a perversion it is to make use of Jesus' name to humiliate the poor, whom Jesus called "honored" in the Beatitudes. Some of the harshest language we have preserved from Paul shows up in this passage -- and in light of how strong some other passages in Paul's letters are, that's really saying something. Those who eat without "discerning the body," Paul says, eat and drink judgment upon themselves. Actually, I think that phrase has a missing capital, and would be clearer if it said, "discerning the Body." As S. Scott Bartchy has convincingly argued (no references handy, but a good place to start for his views is his article on "table fellowship" in InterVarsity Press' Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, "the body" is one of Paul's two favorite metaphors for what we are in Christ ("brothers and sisters" being the other), and a strong case can be made that when Paul speaks of "discerning the Body" in 1 Corinthians 11, he is talking about discerning the Body of Christ -- i.e., treating all members of Christ's Body with the honor and care Christ shows them.

Jesus lived that message in all he did, in how he lived as much as in how he died. As one who lived his vocation fully, his last night wasn't spent in trying to change course; he spent it helping his followers understand better how best to remember him. And we act in remembrance of Jesus not only when we break bread around the Eucharistic table, but also as we live into the grace of which Eucharist is a sign: our call to love and serve and forgive and Jesus loves and serves and forgives, and Jesus' continuing presence with us to heal and strengthen and encourage us as we strive to do so.

April 3, 2004 in Eucharist, Holy Week, John, Luke | Permalink

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.