Palm Sunday signifies to us that Holy Week is beginning. We shout with joy and celebration the entrance of Christ the King into Jerusalem! However, it seems that for many of us it does not really feel like Holy Week until Maundy Thursday. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week just feel like any other Mon-Wed, so the week tends to feel the same for many of us until we reach Maundy Thursday.
Suddenly, the impending heaviness of what is about to happen is upon us. I find it poetic that our Maundy Thursday morning is overcast, rainy and dreary. It feels like an appropriate change from yesterday afternoon’s beauty and sun to help us meditate upon what Jesus is going to be enduring and accomplishing in the coming hours. Maundy Thursday is full of important statements, revealing actions, and theological groundings for the events that will take place leading up to Good Friday, and eventually Easter morning. As I have grown more spiritually mature, I have come to appreciate the importance of Maundy Thursday, while I did not understand its vitality when I was immature in the faith. Maundy Thursday tends to get lost for most Christians. All we need to look at for proof is the fact that Easter worship is always full of participants, and Good Friday brings a large group of worshippers, but Maundy Thursday services draw the least. Is it because we already “know the story?” No, because we obviously already know the Good Friday and Easter stories, as well! Is it because it is on a Thursday and most work the next morning? I don’t have an answer as to why Maundy Thursday seems to get lost in the importance scale of Holy Week, but it does. But if you sit with the events and statements of Maundy Thursday, even for a half hour, you quickly realize why it is so profound.
Our Maundy Thursday celebrations typically include two major elements: washing and the Last Supper. We remember Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during the Passover meal (John 13:1-17). Jesus became the servant, recalling back to his teachings that he came to be a servant. When Jesus comes to Peter, Peter does not want Jesus to wash his feet, but feels as though he should be washing Jesus’ feet. When reading this for the first time, I think most of us would identify with Peter’s reaction. Perhaps we even still identify with Peter’s thoughts! But Jesus explains to Peter two vital lessons that we as Christians need to continually reassert in our faith lives. First, humility. I preach on humility often because it is a sin with which we all wrestle regularly. Especially in today’s world of “likes” and instant gratification, becoming a humble servant of Christ, your family, and your community is essential to discipleship. We must be humble enough that we are willing to get down and wash the feet of those around us. Second, being “washed” by Jesus. This theological lesson about being cleansed by Jesus is embodied with him washing the feet of the disciples. It lets us know that even though we have been justified and made new in Christ, our feet still get dirtied by sins. This process is not a “one time” thing where once we have been forgiven, we just do whatever we feel like. Our feet are still on this fallen earth, and we still fall prey to temptation and sin. We must come to Jesus regularly to be washed.
Our other element is the one which we typically think about first: The Last Supper. One of our two continued sacraments in the United Methodist Church, this moment in history plays a theological role in nearly everything we do as disciples in our modern context. Have you ever been at a family dinner or out with friends and somebody brings up “that subject” and the rest of the dinner gets extremely awkward? I have. I mean, I’ve probably been the one bringing up “that subject” before! Now, put yourself in the Last Supper when you are gathered around the table with your best friends and mentor, whom you have been with basically every day for three years, and your mentor looks at one of your friends Judas, and tells Judas that he will betray him that night. Suddenly those awkward meals I have been present for do not feel quite so bad. That is where these persons found themselves. The Last Supper calls us to engage with the reality of what Good Friday and Easter mean for us individually, why they need to happen, and how we arrived at this place. It sets the stage for the events that follow, and theologically teaches us many different concepts, not just for the disciples in that moment, but for us, right now.
The Last Supper is intertwined in all that we are today. Recognizing our own mortality, confronting the fact that we have all betrayed Jesus in some way, remembering that Jesus offered the cup of salvation to every disciple, our need to constantly renew the covenant that God established for us, knowing that Jesus is the spiritual and moral substance upon which we must feast, gazing upon the fact that we as humans allowed our faults to reach this point, and embracing the fact that our forgiveness was a gift we did not earn. These are not even all the lessons we must continually learn from the Last Supper, but certainly some of the most challenging for us. We have difficulty recognizing our own mortality, but we must do so and ask Christ to prepare a place for each of us. I have betrayed Jesus by sinning. You have betrayed Jesus by sinning. We all have betrayed Jesus by sinning and falling short of the glory of God. The sooner we confront this truth, the sooner we can ask for forgiveness and repent of our failures. But, still remembering that Jesus even offered the cup of salvation to Judas, who betrays Jesus to be murdered. Even when we turn away and sin, Jesus offers us salvation. The new covenant was fulfilled with the blood of Christ and no further physical sacrifices need to be made. We must continually renew our spiritual covenant with God and work to renew our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. The Last Supper teaches us that Jesus is our sustenance and we “cannot survive on bread alone.” We are called to feast upon the Word of God and fill our entire beings with Christ. It is not enjoyable to realize, but Jesus embracing his sacrifice forces us to examine the reality that we as a human race allowed ourselves to fall so deeply into our sins that God sacrificed His only son for us. That is tough to examine. We did not earn this sacrifice or forgiveness. It was given to us from pure love and perfection, and we do not deserve it. The Last Supper teaches us all of these lessons and more, that is why it is so vital.
Take Maundy Thursday theologically seriously. Have a quiet meal. If you have others in your home, make it a point to join together around the table, turning off all cell phones, tablets and televisions for an hour, and be entirely present. Get deep into conversation. Talk about the Last Supper and the meaning of Holy Week. If you do not have others physically in your home, set up a video chat with family or friends and have dinner “together.” Practice the same concepts of serious conversations and dig into Holy Week. Use this day as not only a chance to prepare for Good Friday and Easter morning, but also as a time to grow and learn.