Despite the title of this post, this is not some hyperbolic Yelp post for my favorite Egyptian restaurant in Lexington. “OMG! You have to try the falafel!!” No. Not quite.
This post is about Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, or Thursday in Holy Week, or whatever you call today. In the round of our Church observances, Maundy Thursday typically commemorates two things: Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. As important as the conversation around foot-washing is, and for full disclosure we don’t do it at St. A’s, I think writing about Communion, or Eucharist, is more important today.
Last summer, I was sitting on the green grass at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC, listening to Diana Butler Bass talk about her new book, Grateful. It was a good talk as she worked around what was in the book and how she wrote it and then she said, Maundy Thursday commemorates “the last table in Egypt.” My jaw dropped. Every year of my life, the idea of the institution of the Eucharist felt like it got tossed to the side in favor of the other parts of the service: the foot-washing, the chanting of Psalm 22, the stripping of the alter, the all-night vigil. Dr. Bass opened my eyes to see the importance of the institution for what it is: the first step on our liberation journey.
When the Israelites were preparing to leave Egypt, God gave them a sacred meal to share, a roasted lamb, sacrificed in a specific way, eaten in a special way, to share with God and have a sacred meal with God (for more information, see Exodus 12). This was a meal to prepare the people for their journey as they set out for the Exodus. It is a meal of liberation. It is a communion with God.
The Christian Eucharist is similar to that meal. Jesus was a rabble-rouser and he knew that his time was drawing to a close, he may have known he had already been betrayed, so he gathers the disciples to share one more meal, a meal that would fortify them for the journey to come. This time, instead of leaving Egypt and the power of Pharoah to cross the Red Sea and enter the Promised Land, he was leaving the upside down world of Caesars to cross an unknown sea into God’s vindication and salvation.
He gave this meal to his friends, and he gives it to us, as a new “last table in Egypt”. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, week after week and year after year, we too are preparing ourselves to cross unknown seas, full of the dangers of powers of this world. We, too, are preparing ourselves to pick up our cross. We, too, are preparing to cross into God’s promise. Tonight, we take our first step toward freedom, but we must prepare for the journey with this bread, this cup.