Today is Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. Maundy is an old English word or maybe an old French or Latin word that is derived from “mandate,” which Jesus gave during his last dinner party with his best friends and followers. Actually, he very intentionally called them friends (as opposed to followers, or fanboys and fangirls) but I don’t really know that they were his friends the way you and I think of the word. The sad thing about being Jesus is that you’re really alone in your game, and no one can really *get* you in that way that best, best friends get each other.
I am so very grateful for my best, best friends who totally get me. Boy, am I grateful. They are my lifeblood.
I am confident that Jesus’ lifeblood was God, but when you’re a human being and God is a transcendent and invisible reality, it’s just not the same as being with another human. Especially if you’re telling jokes. You can never be sure if God gets your punchline. There are a lot of silences and uncertainties with having God as your most intimate life companion. Jesus managed that (with some difficulty), but many of us ordinary folk can’t. That’s why we get to have each other, thanks be to God.
The mandate that may or may not be the origin of the word “Maundy” (even the Wikipedia people don’t really know) is this beautiful thing that Jesus said. He said, “You shall love one another as I have loved you.”
This makes my eyes sting just typing it, and now I have a big, ploppy tear coming down my face, because this is the essence of Jesus Christ for me. This is very personal. This is a God-man sitting at a table with his community — and they’re absolutely at unspoken cross purposes (forgive the pun), as I wrote about in my last post about Palm Sunday. The disciples are all like, “Yea, whoo, we’re going to show the Romans who’s king NOW!” And Jesus is like, “I have this opportunity to speak to these beloved dingbats one last time before the sh– hits the fan and they go into shock and chaos. They have been worshiping me but they have not been hearing me.”
You know how Jesus would always say, “He that has an ear, let him hear?” It is so easy to think we’re listening when we’re really all about the conversation we’re having in our own heads about what we wish the other person was saying, which gets all confused with what they’re trying to communicate. Jesus’ disciples were pros at this. They were like the 12 stooges of not at all getting Jesus’ point.
People who think of Jesus as, in the words of my old boyfriend David, “a lamb-petting wuss,” don’t read the Bible, I guess, or they would see all the times that Jesus gets irritated and snarky with the disciples. If you’re into the Snarky Side of Jesus, please go read the Gospel of Mark, which is the best version for this very human aspect of Mr. J.
Anyway, Jesus and his posse are in the Upper Room having a meal and it’s Passover (but please note that the seder as we know it today was not yet a tradition. Thanks to Mary Luti for this excellent article about “Christian seders” and why you shouldn’t have one) –and they’re going to rock and roll soon with the authorities, or so the disciples think. I am not sure exactly what they think Jesus is going to do, or what they themselves plan to do, exactly. It would be very interesting to know that. Do they think there’s going to be some kind of magical showdown as there was between Aaron and the Pharaoh (“YEA, BAM, that’s a snake!”)? Could be. That would make sense. Do they think God is going to do some miracle deliverance thing, as was told in the book of Exodus? Given that they thought Jesus was the promised messiah, this is a reasonable assumption.
But Jesus has a different plan, and the tension is building to a terrible pitch. Judas is going to go drop a dime on his pal any minute now, and things are going to get absolutely horrible, in events we commemorate as (go figure) GOOD Friday.
In this moment, though, things aren’t horrible yet. Jesus has precious little time with his community of followers and he urgently wants to imprint his message and his mission into their hearts. So he does what any wise person does in such an instance: he doesn’t write a book or deliver a lecture. He SHOWS THEM. He creates rituals out of ordinary activities, and in doing so invests them with sacred meaning.
The first memorable thing he does it that he washes their feet. Remember that these people walked around on dusty land wearing sandals, so they had dirty feet to deal with every night. What better way to demonstrate hospitality and humility than to kneel before those who regard you as teacher, rabbi, guru, saviour and master, and wash their tootsies? Simon Peter is like, “NO WAY! I will not let you do this for me! That’s what we have slaves for!” And Jesus is like, “YES, WAY, Peter. This is what leadership looks like in the Kingdom of God, and you need to listen to me now, because I’m not going to be around forever.” Which is a very Jewish mother thing to say, but in Jesus’ case it wasn’t just a guilt trip – it was literal truth.
Then, giving us the most lasting and important ritual of the Christian spiritual tradition, Jesus made the dinner into a sacrament. He took the bread, and blessed it and broke it, and he said to everyone at the table, “This is my body, broken for you. When you gather together in this community, you need to do this in remembrance of me.”
I can’t imagine the feeling around the table at that time. I bet there were some major stricken faces. I bet some of them were wicked wide-eyed, like, “WHAT?” And some of them may have exchanged looks, like, “Holy cow, it’s getting intense up in here. I’m not sure I can even handle this.”
Then Jesus picked up the wine and said that it was his blood.
WHOA. That is about as heavy-duty mystical intense as it gets, and to this day everyone is freaking out about it. My Christian friends and I even have a joke about “The Cult Of The Zombie Jesus,” but we do love our Communion gatherings. They get us into such a deep place of connection with each other. If you’re Catholic, or were raised such, you know about the doctrine of transubstantiation and how the wine and bread are literally supposed to become blood and flesh. I can’t even begin to follow that but I’m a Protestant, so I don’t have to.
I don’t have any problem with a Spirit Person announcing to those who love him that he promises to be with them beyond the limitations of space and time. That makes perfect non-logical sense to me, and I believe it. I also unequivocally embrace the idea of Jesus committing his life force and essence into bread and wine. I read what he did as, “If you do this in remembrance of me, you will partake of my very essence, which I willingly and whole-heartedly and eternally bequeath to you as my love and my blessing and my desire for you.” That’s how I would say it, but of course one doesn’t speak for Jesus. In my experience, he doesn’t even speak for himself very much because whenever I ask him stuff, he responds to me with a question.
When I take Communion in any community in the world, I feel gathered up in the love of Jesus. I am reminded that solidarity and mutuality are not so much created or enforced by activism, but by fellowship.
I love thinking about my friend Kristen, who was singing, “Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees” as a church soloist during Communion (also called the Eucharist*, which is Greek for “thanksgiving,” but don’t be disappointed when you don’t get turkey and dressing). The song goes,
“When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.”
By accident, Kristen sang, “When I fall on my face with my knees to the rising sun, O Lord have mercy on me.” This created a distinctly irreverent mental image for everyone, and they totally cracked up.
That’s all the time we have today, friends! I have a budget draft to look at and Orders of Service to proofread and I have an appointment at the hair salon later this afternoon. This is clearly no time to be mooning around about Jesus! People have THINGS TO DO!
I will be in church at 7pm with a local Methodist church getting my Jesus on. I will be thinking of you, wherever and whoever you are. I am grateful to share this on-line fellowship with you.
A Little Tiny Bit Of Suggested Reading:
This is a lovely translation about the washing of the feet thing that you might be wondering about. Read 1-17. Don’t worry if you think it’s weird — it’s very weird and it’s okay if you don’t really understand it. Just let the basic ideas and feelings come through to you as they will. This stuff is over TWO THOUSAND YEARS OLD! It takes years and years of reading and re-reading these stories before they start to feel real and comprehensible. It also helps a lot if you read them with other people and talk about them. We call this “Bible study” and it’s actually really fun and won’t turn you into a fundamentalist, I promise.
* My colleague, the Rev. Beverly Boke, breaks it down for me like this: “eu=good Charis=gift or grace :: Eucharist= good gift.” It’s a good gift to have smart friends.
This image of the Last Supper is missing a few women.