Maundy Thursday 2021
In this season of fasting, what are you hungry for? And how do you plan to satisfy that hunger?
What a long year this has been! Almost a year ago we began a Lenten fast that continues into this very night. It has been a fast from many of the things we took for granted as a community: a fast from gathering in worship; a fast from joining in song; a fast from passing the peace; a fast from gathering around this table and feeding one another in the mystery of the body and blood of Jesus. Tonight marks the beginning of the only Eucharistic fast that our Church calendar actually requires – from the end of Maundy Thursday to the Great Vigil of Easter. And, in light of John’s account of a Last Supper – which focusses on a foot washing instead of feeding – I find myself wondering in this year of Eucharistic fasting, whether what we’ve been hungry for is a feeding? Or is it actually a foot washing?
My friends, what we have been missing in this Eucharistic fast will tell us a lot about what the Eucharist means for us individually and as a community. If what we are missing is just our ritual remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, we could have mailed consecrated wafers to everyone. And even though we did that here at St. Mark’s, consuming those wafers did not quite seem to satisfy. And so I wonder if it is not our gathering to consume the body broken that leaves us satisfied, but rather our sending out into the world to become the body broken that satisfies our call to discipleship. I wonder if Eucharist is not just a sacrament for us to consume but rather is a practice that consecrates us as sacraments for consumption.
In our story from the Gospel of John tonight, we hear of a Last Supper unlike any of the others in our Gospel stories. In the Last Suppers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels the words of institution all found in one meal – but John spreads his Eucharistic vision over two meals. In a feeding miracle, we see the four-fold shape of the Eucharist when Jesus “takes, blesses, breaks, and gives” five loaves to feed a crowd of five thousand (Jn. 6.11). And, after all have eaten and are satisfied, we hear Jesus tell them that he is the “bread of life” (Jn 6:35). But it is not until our meal tonight, at a foot-washing Last Supper, that we hear the rest of the words of institution – specifically, the command to re-member Jesus in our Eucharistic practice. But is this Eucharist practice a feeding miracle, or is it foot washing?
The other three Gospel accounts of the Last Supper tell of Jesus instructing his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” in the context of a feeding, something we hear Paul “hand[ing] on” to the Corinthians in our Epistle tonight (1 Cor. 1:24). But, in John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus gives us the command to remember him in a foot washing: “I have set you an example,” he says, “that you also should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:15). Here, Jesus is not telling his disciples to remember him in the breaking and eating of bread; he is telling them to remember him in their service to one another on their hands and knees (Jn 13:15). Yes, Eucharist is a feeding miracle. It is also a foot washing!
I know what you may be thinking. I can’t just pick up and move across the country to offer myself in service. I have a family; I have a job; I have responsibilities. I can’t leave everything to live alongside a community in need to share in this Eucharistic vision. And you don’t have to. There are communities of need all around us. And, if we are honest, ours is also a community of need.
Last week, as our Lenten book series on White Supremacy ended, this sacred space was desecrated with the principal weapon of White Supremacy. I thought of James Cone’s reflection that the lynching tree is the crucifix of our time. But, as we move into the Triduum – to stand under the cross of Good Friday and to sit with the wounded body in the tomb of Holy Saturday – we know that the weapons of death do not have the last word. As Cone writes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, “God took the evil of the cross and lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation, there is hope ‘beyond tragedy.’”
Ours a community is hungry for healing! Ours a community is longing for restoration. Ours is a community groaning for reconciliation. The question remains, am I willing to offer up my body – my White privilege that opens doors for me – to satisfy that hunger for healing? Am I willing to offer up my body – my White prosperity that leaves me lacking for nothing– to satisfy that longing for restoration? Am I willing to offer up my body – my White power that allows me to speak and act as I please when I please – to satisfy that yearning reconciliation? Am I willing to nail my White Supremacy to that cypress stave – to string it up from that old oak tree – so my siblings of color might be fed?
If the Eucharistic vision is about more than just consuming what feeds us – if it is about more than just satisfying our own hungers, our own longings, our own yearnings – then it must also be about participating in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. It must be about getting down on our hands and knees and taking up the bruised and battered feet of our neighbor and washing them clean. It must be about becoming that loaf, that bread of heaven – that our sisters and brothers might be fed.
And, my friends, if we are willing to offer up our bodies – our White Supremacy – to feed our sisters and brothers of color, that would be a feeding miracle! And, it would be foot washing. It would be Eucharist, indeed.