Thursday, March 22, 2007

His Last Supper

The last week of the life of our Lord, the time that we refer to as Holy Week, was the most significant of his life. For three Sundays we will have been examining in some detail the events that occurred during that period. We will have looked at Sunday, the day of celebration, Monday, the day of emotion, and Tuesday, the day of questions. Here I would like to examine Wednesday, the day of transition, and Thursday, the day of fellowship.

Jesus’ final week can be divided into three phases. The first two days of the week find the masses in a mood of acceptance and praise. The middle of the week they began to question and challenge. By the end of the week their attitude had completely changed to rejection and crucifixion. Wednesday is the day in between. It is the day I like to refer to as the day of transition. Jesus knew this change was coming. So, on Wednesday he went apart from the crowd to be in meditation and communion with God. He needed to lay hold of the power of God that would enable him to turn defeat into victory.

This scene reminds us that we occasionally need to be free of the things and circumstances that clutter our lives. We need time to clear our heads and be in fellowship with the divine. David Stanley, the New York Times reporter who went to darkest Africa in search of Dr. Livingston, wrote a fascinating biography. He noted that for several days his safari made excellent time, but then, one morning, the porters refused to move at all. He asked the guide what the problem was. It is a native superstition, he replied. They feel that they must stop a day to give their souls a chance to catch up. We too need to stop and let our souls catch up.

Wednesday of Holy Week says to us that we must occasionally take time out of our busy schedules of daily life and have time for introspection. That is harder for some than others. For Type A personalities such as myself, it can be extremely difficult.

Most of us are Familiar with the story of Elijah the prophet. He was the one who took on the 450 prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel. He was totally successful in routing the godless enemy, but he was stunned to discover that even though he had won the battle, wicked Queen Jezebel was still on the throne. Not only that, she had put a contract out on him. So Elijah ran. And he ran and he ran until he was totally exhausted and he could run no more. He prayed to God: Take my life. You see, when we are exhausted we are not ourselves. We do things and say things that are not like us. It is at that point that God comes to Elijah and asks: What are you doing here, Elijah? Now, you see, that is what is known, as a rhetorical question. God knows the answer. He wants Elijah to say it so that he will have to hear himself. When we run from our responsibilities God asks us: What are you doing here?” Has God your attention: It is time that you stop, be silent, and know that I am God. No TV, no radios, no phones, no beepers.

There is another reason why we do not do that and it has nothing to do with schedules. It is because the thought of being alone with ourselves frightens us. It is safer to be busy.

What is so disturbing is that it is so easy to be religious yet still miss the Kingdom. It is so easy to be centered in ourselves that we cease growing. If we are not open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can miss it all. On Wednesday, Jesus took time to be in communion with God.

If Wednesday was the day of transition and meditation, then Thursday was the day of fellowship. In the evening of that day, an admirer of Jesus, we do not know who, loaned the upper Floor of his house to the disciples and Jesus to come together to partake of the first Seder of the Passover.

In this ancient meal, Jews eat certain symbolic foods to remind them of their former bondage in Egypt. A bitter herb is eaten to remind them of the bitterness of the experience. Applesauce is eaten to remind them that they were required to make bricks without straw.It was at this point that Jesus took the matzo bread and broke it and spoke the ancient words of the Baruch: Blessed art thou O God, LORD of the universe, who brings forth fruit From the earth. Suddenly Jesus broke with tradition and began to speak in his native Aramaic: Take, eat, this is my: body broken for you. Jesus then took the cup and said: Take, drink, this is my bloodshed for you. Thus, to an ancient symbolic meal Jesus added the symbolism of his broken body and shed blood for us.

This marvelous mystery even today is misunderstood by many of today's modern world. How does one, except through complete faith explain the miraculous transformation that takes place in simple bread and wine. There is no adequate description of the oneness with God that is experienced by the communicant when we receive the Blessed Sacrament during communion.Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina, was once asked what she meant in a certain dance she had just performed. She replied: IF I could have said it, I would not have danced it. On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus dramatized the mystery of faith. What God could not be conveyed in words alone he expressed in human flesh-—the body and blood of his own son.

In the same way fellowship within the church needs to be understood. We hear it and we think of a potluck meal where we share food and fellowship together. True fellowship is expressed in the words of John Wesley: if your heart is like my heart, then give me your hand and we walk together. We need to cherish our times of coming together-— as families, friends, and as the church.

The day was not yet over. Jesus went up to the Mt. Olivet and prayed and spoke to a crowd. It was here that Judas came up to him and gave him a kiss. I have often wondered why he did that. I mean, why did he not spit in his Face. Why did he not slap him? But he gave him a kiss. It’s a sobering reminder that even in the name of love we can sometimes still hurt those we love. When we do not give people room enough to let them grow, we can hurt in the name of love. When we love our ideas more than we love people, we can hurt in the name of love. We all love Christ, but we have all hurt Christ at one time or another. The kiss of Judas perhaps should remind us that we can end up hurting the ones that we love the most.

We are told that after the Lord’s Supper the disciples sung a hymn and departed, as we all do when we collective leave the Church following mass. Let it be a reminder of the importance of our fellowship. And let it connect all of us to our brother, friend and Saviour Jesus for whom on that Thursday night so long ago the clock was now ticking. Jesus’ date with destiny could now be measured in hours. Calvary awaits.