In Churches throughout…, Maundy Thursday – 2000
April 20, 2000
In churches throughout the world people will gather today to remember. Memory is something we seldom invoke in our culture. We are occupied with the now and the not yet, but we are viewed with suspicion if we recall the past. Yet, the lesson from Exodus recalls the foundation of our Eucharistic life, the Passover meal that became the seder, a sacred meal to Jews, a meal which many Christians rehearse as part of their Holy Week observance.
The eating of roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, accompanied by ritual questions and answers recalling the deliverance of the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt is a potent sign of our own spiritual deliverance in the Holy Eucharist. The two events, the Passover meal and the last meal Jesus eats with his disciples, are bound by a chain of memory and meaning which can empower each of us, and deliver us into a life toward perfect freedom and service. When we reach into the roots of our heritage, we discover our connection with the Passover, the Hebrews, the Jewish tradition, and it becomes the foundation of our story of salvation. We, too, were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh.
Consider some the elements that are particularly powerful in these events. First is the realization that wherever we are, in any circumstance, God liberates us. As the Jews prepared to flee they were commanded to eat, and eat well! But God knew that feeding them was not enough, and so God lead them with a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land.
In our journey, the Eucharist feeds our spiritual hunger so that we are ready to draw near to Jesus who leads us on a journey of salvation. Sometimes we are led by others in Jesus and sometimes by the still small voice that keeps gently talking to us. But it is the spiritual food of that Eucharist which nurtures our souls, and frees us from the bondage of sin and death.
So, as in any good sacramental event, the physical and the spiritual are combined, symbol and sign, heaven and earth, bread and wine, body and blood. This supper with Jesus is a sign, a memorial, and an actual event in which we “participate in the Lord’s death until he comes.” The mystery is that by doing this action we are among the community being saved.
We are being saved so we can offer abundance. The Eucharist is not about scarcity, but about the lavish outpouring of Jesus’ love for us. Just think: knowing what awful things would befall him, he could have retreated, saved himself for the ordeal, retreated from the world. Instead, just before his betrayal and death, Jesus does two remarkable things. He washes the disciples’ feet, and he initiates the Supper of Salvation, taking the Passover meal, a memory meal, and turning it into an instrument powerful enough to feed us and free us from sin. Spiritually, it doesn’t get much better than this!
The pouring of the water, the sharing of the bread and cup, are acts of generosity, signs of Jesus love for us. Can we but do the same for others? In the words of a familiar prayer of consecration, what can we do except “offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.” In return for what Jesus has done for us in the Eucharistic meal, our response should be as unrestrained and lavish.
As we celebrate this great institution, give thanks for our Jewish sisters and brothers who honor the origins of this banquet in the Passover feast. Give thanks that Jesus chose it as the venue to reveal himself in the breaking of the bread. Give thanks that we are bound together in the fellowship of love and prayer in the Eucharist with believers throughout the world. Finally, give thanks that Jesus up to his last moments gave of himself in love, and fed us with his own spiritual food, that we might live and serve him forever. AMEN.
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