Maundy Thursday Reflection 2021

Tonight is a night of firsts and lasts for the followers of Jesus. 

It is striking to me that the very first service of the Lord’s Supper is at the Last Supper. 

They must have found so many of his words to be mysterious and odd.

Little did they know that it would all make sense soon enough.  

But seeing it for the first time, with Jesus right in front of you, it must have seemed strange to hear him connecting, first, broken bread and his own broken body, then wine with his blood, and finally, to hear him raising the notion of needing to remember him.  

Remember…why, Jesus? 

The lastness of the supper is something only Jesus and Judas have a clue about.  

We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane, too. 

Way back when they had all been in Galilee, crossing the sea in a storm, the disciples had been the ones in agony, terrified of the wind and the waves and the suddenness of the storm.  

Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat – unworried.  

Now in the Garden, the roles are reversed. 

The disciples are the ones sleeping, while Jesus agonizes.  

They never do quite learn.   

The disciples are worried when they shouldn’t be, and unworried when they should be.  

Or maybe it’s just that they have learned that, with Jesus, they are safe.  

The notion that he is about to be taken — that he could ever be taken — is unthinkable.  

Why would these be their last moments with him? 

What would make you think that

II.

But if the disciples don’t get what’s happening on this night of firsts and lasts, the deeper point is that Jesus does.  

Jesus inaugurates this feast of remembrance, with its particular power to connect us to his presence, because he knows that the disciples will need it, and that so will we. 

After his arrest, it is as if the disciples run off into the night in eleven different directions.  

Fear and self-preservation take hold – maybe even appropriately so. 

They would have been no match for a detachment of Roman soldiers.  

But at some point, they ventured out. 

At some point, they found one another again, after skulking among the shadows, listening attentively for the sound of marching sandals on the cobblestone streets of the old city, trying to open a door just enough to slip inside and then creep up the stairs.  

Somehow, they made it to that upper room we talk about on Easter – this place where they regathered.  

At first, it was enough just to be together again…to sit there in silence, sharing the shock of it all.  

The memory of their firsts and lasts with Jesus must have been so strong.  

If you have ever suffered a great shock or a tremendous loss, you know that those memories loom so large.  

But Jesus wasn’t half as interested in the past as he was about reaching for the future.  

He didn’t hope to see his friends regathered. 

He wanted them to get refocused – to get back to the work he’d called them to join.

And so he gave them this meal, not simply to remember him by, but so that they could find again the strength they’d found in him.  

As the great UCC theologian Mary Luti has observed, a central part of the Communion liturgy is described as anamnesis – a kind of resistance to amnesia, if you like.  

But by this, the Church has never meant “remembering” in a simple sense.  

It’s deeper than that – more pointed than that – Communion is a refusal to forget.  

He gave Communion to his disciples so that they could find again the hope they’d found in him, and the love they’d found in him. 

To share the bread and share the cup was to respond to the brokenness of the world by refusing to forget the wholeness of God, and to be nourished by it.  

It was to see the brokenness of God’s own Son, not as the last word, but a new beginning: a seed planted in the ground that would become a harvest. 

And so the meal offers, in Christ, the strength to face another day.  

III.

As faithful people, then, tonight is a night for us to remember the reality of heartbreak even in a world so loved by God. 

We remember the horror that the disciples must have felt at losing, and our own horror for the suffering, loneliness and injustice that continue even now among God’s children.  

But we remember what it is to be a people Christ calls in the face of all that to become his body now: to be his hands and feet now, his eyes and ears now, even his voice now, especially as gathering around his table makes us alive to his presence and ready for what comes.  

On this night of firsts and lasts, we refuse to forget.

We refuse to forget what it was to lose him. 

We refuse to forget what he suffered, and what too many have suffered at the hands of injustice.  

And most especially, we refuse to forget that first and last, we belong to him, and that he loves us with a love that will never let us go. 

Amen.  

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