Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Messiness of Dining with Jesus

Maundy Thursday is the day that calls to the church’s memory the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples prior to his arrest. It started out as a traditional Passover meal, but Jesus reframed it as he anticipated what was about to happen. We call that meal the Last Supper, but for us it really becomes the First Supper, one that the church has re-enacted for centuries. It now goes by different names—Communion, the Lord’s Supper—but the most traditional term is Eucharist, formed from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving.

I’ve always been fascinated, and sometimes perplexed, by the battles and boundaries that have emerged around the Eucharist. Christians have argued, divided, and even brought persecutions over the nature of the bread and wine. Most Christian groups have created boundaries designating who is eligible to participate in the Eucharistic celebration—boundaries that include church membership, baptism, right doctrine, proper confession of faith, and purity of heart.

It is interesting to me how both battles and boundaries seem to be absent from that original table of Jesus.

In the gospel accounts Jesus doesn’t offer much interpretation when it comes to the bread and wine. He simply declares, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” No one debates with him, even though such a reframing would change the meaning of the Passover elements. They seem to merely accept what he says at face value.

And while it’s true that the invitation was limited to his twelve disciples, they came as people sadly lacking in anything resembling solid doctrinal understanding, unity, or purity of heart. Around that table the disciples exhibited the weaknesses and sins that are common to all of us—fear, false expectations, cowardice, treachery. The one thing they all seemed to have in common was their response to the summons of Jesus. They wanted to be with him.

They came because he invited them.

I wonder if it is possible for us, with all of our weakness, our unbelief, our sin, our confusion, to begin to receive the elements of The Table in a new and fresh way. Rather than seeing ourselves as either qualified or unqualified, insiders or outsiders, good guys or bad guys, we start seeing ourselves as people sharing a common brokenness, yet still receiving Jesus’ invitation to come and dine. I wonder how that might change us.

There is a danger in this, I know. Some might come out of wrong motives. Some might not even be believers in Jesus. Others might be confused about orthodox faith. Still others could be harboring secret crimes. This can and does happen on a regular basis.

But when it does, we can take comfort in recognizing that each person still pulls up a chair and sits next to Peter, and Thomas, and Judas, and the others, and we can see that we’re all in good company. Like the original twelve disciples, we can only come to that table because Jesus has sent us his invitation.

And when Jesus calls, things change.

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