Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
An Instructed Eucharist
In this Maundy Thursday service we focus on the Eucharist. In prayer and scripture we are reminded of the moment Jesus began this sacred meal. The Episcopal Church says that we encounter Jesus Christ as we receive communion, and (if we will it) God in Christ then enters into our lives and actions.
The prayer about this supreme moment includes some reference to “the night in which he was betrayed ….” It is 2000 years ago, and we are in the upper room with the friend we love. He is telling us that he is about to die on the very next day. But this is not a failure. He is breaking bread and pouring wine, and he is bringing our brokenness – the brokenness of our imperfect humanity – home to the Father. He is pouring out his life for our spilled lives. He shows this to us in the meal he is sharing with us now.
What would first-century Jews understand when another first-century Jew said, “This is my body …,” This is my blood …”? We can look to the writings that Jesus and his friends held as most sacred: the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, the human being is a unity, a living body. The body enables us to do things: we act in the world by virtue of our bodies. Even when speaking of God, the Hebrew Bible uses “body language”: God’s “right hand” means God’s strength; God’s “face” means God’s presence with us; God’s “inward parts” mean God’s compassion; even God’s “back,” God’s massiveness or weight, means God’s majesty and glory. When Jesus says, “This is my body,” and breaks the bread and hands it around, he is saying, “I am about to be broken for your benefit, and you are to receive this body and act in the world as this body would act – as I would act.”
In the Hebrew Bible, blood is the life of a human being or an animal. Blood is so sacred that it is returned to God in sacrifice, since God is the only source of life. By pouring out wine and saying “This is my blood,” Jesus is saying, “My very life is being spent on your behalf. Take that life within you, and spend it in the world, living as I would live.”
We have been in the room with Jesus, but we do not stay there. We take the gifts of Jesus’ acts, of Jesus’ life of service, and we bring them back to the world from which we have been gathered here. Jesus makes the sacrifice; we take that sacrifice and make it our own. Jesus offers himself to be broken and poured out for us; and we are to go out into the world and recognize Jesus in the broken, spilled world that is waiting for us. We go out as a community, the Body of Christ in the world. We go out in faith, knowing the great deeds of God the Father in Christ on our behalf in the past; in hope, trusting the promises of God in Christ for our future; and in love, acting with the power of the Holy Spirit in the present to bring the love of God in Christ to the world. Jesus is present to us in the bread and wine; Jesus is present in the world’s brokenness, need, and thirst; Jesus is present to the world in us, in our acts, in our giving of ourselves, in our care for others. Jesus is among us, within us, around us; when we take the bread and wine into ourselves, we take in the acts and life of Jesus and make them our own. We have “made our communion” – we are one with one another and with Jesus; but that is not the end. It is the beginning: the beginning of our living for one another as Jesus lives for us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.