Tonight, Christians around the world will gather around a table to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples. Whether it's in a local church in Park City, a cathedral in England, an open air church in Africa, or an underground house church in North Korea, and regardless of the native language of those gathered at the table, these powerful signs of bread and cup point us to the reality of the lengths which God has gone to save us through the sacrifice of Christ. Think of the elements as a kind of universal "sign language" that communicates the good news of Christ in shorthand.
"Maundy" Thursday is so named from the Latin word "maundatum," which means "command" and from which we derive the word "mandate." It's a reference to John's Gospel, where Jesus commands his disciples gathered at the table to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). This muddled group of men, each with his own ambitions and desires, each with his own expectations of the kind of kingdom Jesus was going to bring to power, was confused by Jesus' behavior and words at the table. Jesus had washed their feet, doing the job of the lowliest servant, had re-interpreted some the symbols of the Passover meal to include himself as the sacrificial centerpiece, and had quieted the disciples' bickering by issuing them this last commandment–to love…always, to love one another. That was how they would be known as his disciples.
Some two thousand years later, we still celebrate the meal but we're still trying to figure out how to love one another. Recently we were again reminded that there are groups out there who call themselves "Christian militias" who perpetrate violence against their supposed enemies rather than love. Jesus' command would seem to make "Christian militia" a gross oxymoron. We read about other Christians whose anger at those with whom they disagree leads to name-calling and threats. The politics of the day polarize us and pull us away from the politics of the Kingdom, whose currency and capital is love for all, especially for those with whom we struggle. When we choose malice over mercy, rancor over righteousness, and politics over prayer, we are far from what Jesus called us to be.
Yet, Jesus' command still stands. Tonight when we break the bread and drink the cup, we cannot miss the fact that Jesus was the victim of the world's worst hatred–his body broken and his blood shed by those who saw him as a threat or a charlatan. Holding bread and cup in our hands, however, we remember that the broken and bleeding Jesus forgave even those who tormented, tortured and killed him because "they [did] not know what they were doing." He loved even those who crucified him, and calls us to love in the same way.
In the early church, and even in today's liturgy, one of the acts the church engages in before receiving the elements is to pass the peace. This isn't merely to be a greeting time, rather it was designed so that those in the church who had disagreements or disputes with one another could speak together and be reconciled and at peace with one another before coming to the table.
As you hear Jesus' command, "love one another as I have loved you," on this Maundy Thursday, with whom do you need to be reconciled? To whom do you need to turn your malice into mercy and your griping into grace? It may be someone close to you, or someone you don't even know personally but you're angry at what they've said or done. As you pick up the bread and the cup tonight, lay down your anger and hatred and ponder Jesus' command and example–to love.