+ This week is, of course, an emotional week. In addition the two Funerals we had this week, saying goodbye to two people who were friends to many of us, we also have the memory of what we are commemorating this week.
For me anyway my emotions are right on the surface, as they often are during Holy Week. I think they are because I realize that this week is more than what it appears on the surface. Yes, we are commemorating Jesus’s last days. But, as I said on Sunday, following Jesus means making his story our story as well. That’s not an easy thing.
I find myself thinking of my last days as well. In walking with Jesus, in following him, we are reminded, in no uncertain terms, that there will be a time when we too will be going through our own last hours, when we too will be eating our last meal, when we too will be turning away from this world and looking toward the next.
In my emotional state this week, I for some reason, was thinking about my father. And I was thinking about his last days and his last meal. I remember in the days after his death and funeral, I had to clean out his pickup. As I did so, I found on the front seat, an empty bag from Hardee’s. It hit me hard for some reason. I know he ate too much fast food, but it was easy food for him with his busy schedule. I shared my finding of the Hardee’s bag a day or two later with a friend of his, and this friend said, “Yeah! You know I saw him driving out of the drive-in at Hardee’s on Main Avenue that day before he died!”
That stayed with me all these years. For some reason, I cannot pass that Hardee’s to this day without thinking that is where my dad got his second-to-last meal (he ate is supper that night at home, of course). There was something about that physical Hardee’s bag that struck me and had such meaning to me. And it reminds me of what we are commemorating this evening.
This evening of Maundy Thursday is all about remembering and it is about the physical. Tonight, we are experiencing physical signs of God’s presence. We are being anointed in absolution for our sins. 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 be raised 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 a prescursor.
This meal is really our last meal as well. This is the last real meal that will ultimately sustain us.
But it’s even more than just that too. 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, the followers of Jesus, are witnessing Jesus truly humble himself, even in the face of his impeding death. He humbles himself in the washing of feet. And he humbles himself in his giving us these 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 Nora 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—God—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.
Whenever I raise the bread at Communion, you hear me 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 is truth. Yes, this communion is not going to quench our physical thirst or cure our growling stomachs. By outward standards what we do at this altar might seem frivolous.
But, as Nora Gallagher writes: “Taking Communion…is a creative acts, and it makes no more ‘sense than writing a poem, or for that matter, reading one. It isn’t going to get you anywhere in the world; it’s not networking; it has no practical worth.” And she is right.
Simone Weil once said, every creative act is a “folly of love.”
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 God is present and that God 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 reminds us that God is 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 on what is essentially our own last meal. And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to feed others and to be the Presence of Christ to others.