-Rev Melissa Fain-
The first Communion. It is a meal that has been discussed, explored, shared, acted and pantomimed out trillions of times over the centuries. The symbolism is easy enough for a child to understand, while complex enough for sages to write books upon books of what it means. The rich cultural understandings of Communion are all rooted in Maundy Thursday.
What is Maundy Thursday? (I just assumed some of the readers would be asking.) Maundy Thursday always takes place the Thursday before Easter. If we put the timeline together from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection, the first Communion takes place on that Thursday before Jesus is crucified. Maundy is one of those Latin holdovers. The closest word we English speakers have is "mandate." Since this is also the day Jesus washed the Disciple's feet, we are given a mandate to serve the world as Christ has served us.
Like I wrote so many years ago, there are tensions we should keep at the Communion table. Our experience should sing, so to speak. I compared these tensions to guitar strings. Both sides have to pull against one another or it is all mess. While there are many tensions I can discuss, here's the one I want you to take with you today.
We are called to be served, and to serve others.
Maundy Thursday should be a reminder that one of our focuses should be on being served and serving others. We are called to the table while we are also purposefully repelled from it. Being pushed from the table should lead us to service to others. Both of these actions create a beautiful tension that will help us through Holy Week. How are you letting Christ serve you this week? How are you serving others in return?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew 26:26-30 CEB
People who create icons are practicing an art form and living into a spiritual discipline. Icons follow a set of rules. Icons are always painted on a solid wooden board. The wood grain must run vertical to connect heaven and earth. Specific biblical characters hold or wear specific clothes or items. Not everyone has a painted halo. The gesso is painted in layers, from the darkest color to the lightest.
Lent is the wooden board that connects us humans to the divine. Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday are the first few layers of paint. The final painting will be a glorious image of redemption and light, but we must paint those dark colors first.
You might wonder what could be dark about the first communion. As part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we denominationally partake of communion on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it is an uplifting and happy event. This first communion might have started that way, but the moment Jesus compared the cup and bread to blood and body that joy was gone. This is the meal where friends were called out as being deniers and betrayers. Maybe they ended with songs of praise, but for a bit, it was a dark meal indeed.
I know it’s difficult to accept the darkness in a world where companies are painting easy answers and guaranteed happiness. These next few days are the darkest in the Lenten season. We might want to put this devotional aside and just wait it out until Easter Sunday.
Don’t. The new life of Easter cannot happen without the crucifixion and death of Christ. The bright colors and gold will be meaningless without the darkness. This is the path we must walk to truly understand the glory and light of Easter. Let’s paint those colors and find the glory of the finished picture in just a few days.
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As we take the bread and break it, help us understand the brokenness of your body.
As we take the cup, help us see the sacrifice of your blood.
I was born into the church. For years I thought Maundy Thursday was "Monday Thursday." I thought Holy Week begins on Monday, and on Thursday we talk about Jesus one last time before the crucifixion. Then one day, I gave my little definition to a congregant, and she responded, "Melissa, Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, not on Monday."
I mention this story because if I, someone who spent an entire lifetime in the church, didn't realize the realize what Maundy Thursday was, I'm sure I'm not alone.
There is some confusion over the origin of the word, "Maundy." Basically, it's a day to celebrate the first communion, and the mandate Jesus gave us:
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
John 13:34-35 CEB
Many will also add a foot washing. All three are biblically placed in John 13.
Therefore, if you go to your worships tonight, put political discourse, church infighting, and general drama aside. Today we gather around the table to love one another as Christ loved us.
John 13:1-17 CEB
Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.
Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
I have worked, volunteered, led, followed, counseled, directed and attended Summer Church Camp. I gave most of my young adult life to it. I have discovered there are a few reoccurring things that happens no matter what the camp. (Early Elementary through High School, over four different camping facilities, three states.)
Traditionally, in biblical times, when a guest would enter a house their feet would first be washed. The people wore sandals during the time, the roads were dusty, covered with dung and trash. Naturally their feet would become dirty. In comparison, if you wear shoes your feet would probably be considered clean. Because of how nasty the task of cleaning feet would be, usually it was the lowliest servant who was chosen to do it. It was no wonder Peter didn't want Jesus to wash his feet. To him, and I am assuming us, Jesus isn't below us, but above. We would rather waste 40K in expensive perfume to wash Jesus' feet than allow a Savior to wash ours.
Jesus, in an act of humility, is living out his own words, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last." In all my years of camp, watching the kids humbled before a kiddie pool as their fellow youth wiped their feet, I learned what Jesus was doing. We are terrified of allowing Jesus to push us up because it puts the Christ below us. The foot washing becomes the first real move to the cross: Christ below us. Christ the servant. Christ who understands when we don't want to be real with others; we worry about exposing ourselves. A true leader takes the lowliest job by raising those around him or her. This is a type of humility many of us don't talk about: humility in accepting praise and focus. It is a humility we are not good at because, it either doesn't work and we look arrogant, or we push it away and become Peter. "Not me Jesus. I'm not worthy Jesus." Today, this Maundy Thursday, we are humbled by being raised up. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when death comes. For now, we must accept it at that. Christ will die for us. Christ below us. I am humbled.