“Not the same old meal" March 28, 2013 by Robin Wardlaw
Maundy Thursday, Year C
Readings: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; (1 Corinthians 11:23-26); John 13:1-17, 31b-35
You’re sitting down with the women of the book group for the evening. Everything is familiar–the surroundings, the food, the interesting book, something to drink. But you have a surprise. Tonight, you will propose that the book group to become a book writing group.
Or you’re with the guys for the usual get together–watching the game, poker, whatever. Snacks, check; drinks, check. But your agenda is to have the men’s group become dedicated to working with other men to reduce violence toward women. How tough would that be?
Jesus is with men and women in an upper room. They’ve made it to the capitol in time for the biggest event of the year, the remembrance of the flight from Egypt to freedom in Canaan, the Passover supper. Preparations were all laid in–rented room, food and drink. They would look to Jesus, I suppose, to lead the ritual. With the Romans running things, the Passover was always a tense time. Local people celebrating their independence and status as chosen people meant that there was defiance in the air as spring dawned each year. Maybe there was extra excitement in the upper room because this rabbi included women in his circle. He was willing to break the ancient taboos that kept them separate, and unequal.
Everything goes as usual, until the end. Then he does something different, takes the ritual into his own hands. Did they get it right away, the magnitude of what he did with the bread and the cup? Or did they slowly realize over weeks, or months, or even years afterward? A new covenant. No lamb needs to die for the feast. The blood can be symbolic. Violence has no place now.
The new freedom is freedom to love one another, love one another fully. The new liberation is liberation from all forms of domination. And as we will see on Easter day, the new covenant quickly breaks free from any ethnic constraint. It becomes available to any kind of person, any kind of person who commits to this love ethic, that is.
The Passover is a very political meal. It celebrates a people’s escape from slavery, and their destiny as a people who will be a light to the world. Communion is just as political. It confronts violence in all forms, against everyone. Taking this bread and this cup is an act of defiance. We can forget. And it sometimes becomes routine for us. The other gospels describe communion. John doesn’t even mention it, did you notice? His focus is on foot washing as the ritual to replace or supplement the Passover meal.
Footwashing is important for a community. It reminds us that no one is greater than anyone else. We will lovingly wash one another’s feet. It’s a beautiful symbol. But it will never cause any tremors in the seats of power. It doesn’t challenge the Pilates and the Herods and their modern equivalents. But to eat all together, to share bread equally sends a message to the world, a message it always needs to hear. And we are the messengers.