Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; Psalm 22; John 13.1-17,31b-35
+ I have to admit—and I hate to admit it—but, I haven’t been very spiritual this Holy Week so far. In fact, I’ve found myself a bit distracted. Distracted by physical things, rather than spiritual things. Of course, I’ve still been praying the Offices and being present spiritually for our Maundy Thursday Lots of physical things have been going on here at St. Stephen’s of course.
Of course, we have our new Tenebrae hearse that we introduced last evening, which took some planning. Our remodeling of the undercroft bathroom, of course, continues and may possibly be done by Easter. Our Memorial Garden is coming along and the planning of it is always kind of in my mind right now.
And, in my own life, I have been working very diligently on the final manuscript of my book of short stories, which I’m planning on getting to my publisher by the end of this month. This book is no 40 page collection of poetry. Working with 300 pages of manuscript—and prose manuscript nonetheless—has been daunting.
So, yes, I’ve found myself distracted by these physical things. Not that physical things are bad. They certainly are important.
This evening of Maundy Thursday, after all, is all about the physical. Tonight, we are experiencing physical signs of God’s presence. We are coming forward to be fed with Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, these next few days are also about that merging between the physical and spiritual—about, truly, Incarnation.
This physical Body of Jesus will tomorrow be tortured and then will be nailed to the Cross. It will die and be laid in a dark tomb. On Saturday, it will be there, laid out, broken and destroyed. But on Sunday, that physical Body will rise out of that darkness. It will rise out of that destroyed state. It will come forth from that broken disgrace and will be fully and completely alive and present.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we are here, in this moment. We are here on Maundy Thursday, experiencing the physical and spiritual life that we have been given. We are preparing ourselves to remember that Last Supper, as we do every Sunday. I think we often take for granted what we do at this altar each Sunday and every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. I know I do occasionally.
But what we celebrate together here is not something we should take for granted. What we celebrate here is truly an incredible and beautiful thing. It is more than just some memorial Jesus left us. It is more than just nice, quaint practice of the Church. It is an unveiling. For a moment, the veil is lifted between this world and the next. For a moment, as we celebrate this very tangible gift of Jesus in our lives, we get to glimpse the other side of the veil. We get to see the larger worship that is going on throughout time and eternity.
We gather here not only with each, but with all the Church—with those of us here, present in our bodies, and those who have gone before. In this one moment, as our liturgy reminds us, we are gathered with all the saints, and with all the angels and archangels, who now sing before God in this moment. But it’s more than just a mystical experience as well. It also lifts the veil that exists right now, right here between each of us.
And we do live in a veiled world. We live in a world in which we ignore each other, in which we really and truly don’t SEE each other. Here, at the Eucharist, that veil too is lifted.
Tonight, we are all experiencing humbling experiences. Tonight, we, the followers of Jesus, are witnessing Jesus truly humble himself. He humbles himself in the washing of feet. And he humbles himself in his giving himself to us in the basic element of bread and wine. And he invites us, as well to enter into this humbling experience—this experience in which we need to encounter each other in this most basic of acts.
He essentially invites us to enter into what Gallagher calls “the kingdom of the living bread.” What we experience here with each other at this altar in Holy Communion is truly a bridge of sorts. We find that the divine is present to us in some thing we can touch and taste and in those gathered with us here.
And more than just some spiritual practice we do, we do this not just with our spirits, but with our very bodies as well. We do it with our very physical presence. And, in doing so, we realize that we are catching a glimpse of the resurrected state that we will so glorious celebrate in just a few days time on Sunday morning.
What comes to us at this altar, is truly the manna come down from heaven. It is a reminder to us of the sacrifice of that Lamb of God, which we found prefigured in our reading from Exodus. During the Eucharist, whenever I raise the broken bread, I say,
“This is the Lamb of God. This is the one who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we are invited to this supper.”
This not just quaint language we use in the church. This not just poetic symbolism. This is the foundation of our belief.
What we celebrate at this altar is not just some archaic sacrament, left over from some forgotten chapter of history. Maybe it is to the outside world. If someone who has no idea what Communion was saw us tonight they would definitely be confused. Certainly the bit of bread we receive and the little taste of wine is not enough to sustain us. It is not going to quench our physical thirst or sure our growling stomachs. By outward standards what we do at this altar is frivolous.
Still, for us, who celebrate this mystery together, we do leave here filled. We do leave here spiritually fed. We do come away with a sense that Jesus is present and that he goes with us—each of us—all of us—from this altar and from this church, into the world.
So, let us come forward to this altar tonight, with each other. Let us come forward to this kingdom of the living bread. Let us also come forward on this night in which Jesus instituted this incredible sacrament in which he remains with us, on this night in which he humbled himself and invites us, as well, to humble ourselves. Let us humble ourselves and be fed. And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to feed others and to be the Presence of Jesus to others.