Tonight we had our Maundy Thursday service in the Fellowship Hall. We've had the practice of having both a service and a meal on the same night. Last year we combined the two, having the meal as part of the service. We did the same tonight. There's this interesting intersection of what we do on Maundy Thursday. We remember the Last Supper, and in some ways recreate it in more dramatic and real ways than we otherwise do through the course of the year. We also note that Christ is, somehow, present in the communal reality in which we gather. And at the same time, we ground ourselves tangibly in Holy Week, moving the story forward from Palm Sunday toward the desolation of Good Friday. Tonight is somber.
We have expanded the communion liturgy out to encompass the whole service, so the gathering of the elements gathers us in to the table; our great thanksgiving puts us into the whole story of God's salvation; the sermon is not a lecture, but a discussion. We sing quite a bit, and in the end we strip our "sanctuary," ending in silent procession out to drape the cross at the corner of Lanier and Woodrow. It's intense.
The word "eucharist" which takes such center stage tonight means "thanksgiving." And so, it's that Great Thanksgiving which becomes such a central part of the liturgy. We hear, re-told, God's story of salvation, beginning with creation, moving through the prophets, and on into the time of Christ. It ultimately becomes our story, too, because God ultimately cares about our fate.
The two texts we traditionally read, Exodus and John, highlight this all. In the Exodus lesson, we hear of that final plague which afflicted the Egyptians and freed the Israelites. That whole story begins as one of slavery, but in which God intervenes because of the people's groaning. God cares about the fate of God's people; though they are in bondage, God wants them to be free.
And in John, we come face to face with the most theologically coherent description of the incarnation among the gospels. God, the creator of all this, became human, this infant who grew into a man named Jesus. The one who fashions the worlds cares enough to become a creature; to experience what we experience, to know what we know, that we would know that we are never ever alone. And in the meal, where Jesus is the host, breaking bread and pouring cup for his guests, Jesus is also the servant, bending down and washing feet. Christ cares about the fate of his people; though we might feel insignificant, Christ chose to model humility.
A friend of mine passed me the video below from Brian McLaren, one of the leading figures in the Emergent conversation. In it, he is promoting his book; but as he does, he asks two questions which strike me as central to what this evening is all about.
The video became a source of conversation for us around our tables. And as we talked, we discovered that fear perhaps lies at the root of all we discussed: war, hunger, poverty, environmental destruction. Perfect love casts out fear.
And so, as we gather around a table in response to God's grace, we are fed once again by God's provision. But then, we are sent out as God's agents in this world. If God cares about the fate of God's people, then that must be our calling as well.