Reclining With Jesus (Thoughts on Maundy Thursday)
As we approach the middle of Holy Week, our attention shifts to the last supper. In this iconic scene, we observe the past meeting the present and a glimpse of the future.
On Maundy Thursday as it’s called, we reflect deeply on the pending sacrifice of Christ, the emotions of this night, and what it means to share this meal with Christ today.
For the past few years, I’ve held a Passover Seder with our students during this week. We sit around tables and go through a traditional seder service. I’ve tweaked things over the years, cutting some aspects and adding others.
Some of my recipes have greatly improved too. My charoset–a sweet mixture of fruits and nuts–is top-notch (the secret is to use candy glazed walnuts).
Students listen to the story and eat food that almost makes them sick. Turns out, most of them don’t like horseradish. But in this meal we think through what these symbols teach us about God and the history of our faith.
I’ve always been pretty blown away by the connections between the Passover and Jesus. Obviously, some of these are pretty straightforward:
Jesus is the new sacrificial lamb.
The blood on door frames is replaced by the blood of Jesus on the cross.
We drink the bread and wine now in remembrance of Jesus, the new Passover, who freed us not from slavery in Egypt, but slavery to sin.
But there are other parts to this ancient meal that speak to us today. Passover reflects on the human condition, the necessity of freedom for all people everywhere, and the hope that God will continue the work He’s started.
On Maundy Thursday, we get close to Jesus and the disciples. We rub elbows with them at the table. We pour over the significance of this passover meal, something the disciples and Jesus have shared every year with their families.
As we sit at the table, we think back over the rich history of God’s provision and love. We remember how God delivered His people from Egypt. It was the ultimate game changer. In fact, the Jewish New Year is celebrated in relation to the Passover deliverance.
And now Jesus is here with us. He tells us to share in a new meal, a new Passover, that will happen through him. As we look around the table, we are confused and slightly baffled by his words.
There are some at the table who have ulterior motives and are looking for a way to fill their pockets, possibly believing this man couldn’t be real. He’s just another Messianic poser riling people up.
Then Jesus does something extraordinary. He serves his followers by washing their feet. A strange and terrifyingly intimate act.
I can remember going through this ritual at Christian camps over the years. As a Middle School student, I remember the fear of being found out that my feet were dirty and smelly.
Perhaps that’s part of it.
Jesus, this teacher, this rabbi, this leader, chooses to serve. And in doing so, He instructs his followers to serve one another. This is His path moving forward–serving and giving of yourself.
On Maundy Thursday, we recline at the table with Jesus. We sit close enough to hear His heartbeat. We think back to this historic event and lean in close, because what is happening is historic too. In fact, what is about to happen changes everything.
We let Jesus wash our feet and follow His example for the rest of time.
After the meal, we’re transported to the garden. Jesus gives us clear instructions: Watch and Pray. Who knew those two verbs hold such insight and meaning? But we fail to do that. Sleep takes over. Exhaustion clouds our ability to be there for our friend.
How often do we succumb to physical demands? Hunger, thirst, and tiredness. Why couldn’t we do the simple task? Watch and Pray.
Jesus is distressed in all of this. He prays for a different path, another way forward. “Father, take this cup from me…”
The cup he is referring to is the cup of God’s wrath now being poured out. He cries tears soaked in blood, his body reacting to the emotional turmoil He’s facing. In the gospels, we see Jesus’ divinity on display. Here we see His humanity.
Who knew that the reclining Jesus at the table, the Jesus who appears calm, cool, and collected simply sharing a meal with his friends, would go the garden and fight for God’s will?
But in the pain and frustration, He surrenders to His Father’s will.
And we venture into the garden with Him. We see Him wage war against the biggest challenge and assignment anyone could ever receive. Watch and Pray were His words that still reverberate in us.
On this day, let us remember the teaching of Christ. Let us be reminded that to serve is the way of Christ. And may we participate in worship because even though we were tired and weary in the garden, He pulled through. And He did it for us.
A new Passover has begun.
As we break bread and drink the cup, we taste freedom.
Freedom that came from the cross and the sacrifice of Christ.
Happy Passover has a different meaning now.
May Maundy Thursday remind us that our future is secure in the lamb who takes away the sins of the world.