Maundy Thursday Mealtime
By Donald McKenzie
March 24, 2016
We have previously share Maundy Thursday services with other parishes. As always when I’ve been out and about I use the occasion for visiting local eateries.
*Feel free to leave any thoughts on this post, or Maundy Thursday in general, in the comments.
Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the beginning of the Triduum, the Church’s great three day worship service. Maundy Thursday marks the occasion where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, washes his disciples feet and says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35; NRSV)
Over the course of Lent 2014, I led a group of parishioners from St. Philip’s in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. While doing this I also read some of Bonhoeffer’s other writing. I started on this post then, but it has taken me two years to get to the point where I am ready to finish it.
I came across this while going through Letters and Papers From Prison. Writing to his friend Eberhard Bethge: …”First, I very much miss meal-time fellowship. Everything I get from you for my material enjoyment becomes here a reminder of my table-fellowship with you. So may not this be an essential part of life, because it a reality of the Kingdom of God?”
This reminded me of the beginning of Adam Gopnik’s book The Table Comes First. Gopnik’s book starts with an excerpt of a letter from a young man, (Jacque Decour), a member of the French Resistance, who like Bonhoeffer will be executed by the Nazi government for his opposition to their regime. As he faces his death, the young man’s thoughts turn to food and meals he has shared.
Maundy Thursday and the Meal
Like the stories of Bonhoeffer and Decour, the story of Maundy Thursday is centered around a young man soon to face execution. Also, like them, his execution will be brought about because he is perceived as a threat to the state and to the status quo.
Yet, before he faces this execution, he gathers his twelve closest friends and a few others together for one last meal. During this meal, he will take bread and wine, and offer them to his friends stating that they are his body and his blood. Jesus, for this is the man about to die, will tell them that whenever they eat the bread and drink the wine they will remember his death.
Maundy Mealtime and Judas Iscariot
Among these friends there is one, Judas Iscariot, who will betray Jesus. He leaves the company of friends sometime during the course of the evening. Only Matthew and John specifically identify Judas during the course of the meal. None of the Gospels specify whether or not this is before or after Jesus has shared the bread and wine and spoken of his body and blood. Although, Matthew says Judas left immediately after receiving the bread and then goes on to the story of the institution of The Eucharist.
John’s account of the sharing of the bread is slightly fuller than Matthew’s. There are a couple of things worth noting in this account. First, the disciples have no idea what it is that Judas is about to do. This tells us something about Jesus at this time. He could have used Judas’s departure as chance to out him as the betrayer. He could have told the other disciples and allowed them to stop it.
Along with this the actual sharing of the bread is significant. Even as Judas is about to get up and betray him, Jesus performs and act of hospitality. He takes the bread, dips it in the dish and gives it to Judas. Sharing of food is one our most basic acts of humanity. It is one our most basic acts of love. In some ways the accepting of the bread from Jesus makes Judas’s act of betrayal even more difficult. To betray the one who has shared bread with you violates hospitality at it’s most basic level.
Meals and forgiveness
It is not surprising that DeCour and Bonhoeffer both had their thoughts turned towards food, and more importantly the people they shared it with, as they approached their deaths. Meals are meant to be places of healing, forgiveness, and reconnection.
Perhaps that is what Jesus was doing in sharing food with Judas, even as Judas was about to betray him. Even in that last moment before the act itself, Jesus was offering his forgiveness to the one who was about to do the unforgivable.
The Command to Love
It is a helpful reminder on Maundy Thursday, that the word Maundy comes from Mandatum, meaning commandment and refers to Jesus’s commandment to his disciples in John 13:34.
‘And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.‘
Are we willing to love even those who like Judas, we know are going to betray us. Are we capable of loving those who already have betrayed us. How will we set our tables? Will we set them so that we can maintain distance from those we are afraid of. Or will we take the risk of sharing food with our enemies
If you participate in a Maundy Thursday Eucharist I invite you to remember not only the words “this is my body given for you,” and ” this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood,” but also a “…I give you a new commandment: love another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As you enter into Maundy Thursday celebrations may they be part of a deep and meaningful Triduum culminating in a Joyous Easter.