Maundy Thursday – The Incarnation Of The Eucharist
I celebrated my first Maundy Thursday in the living room of an old apartment. We poured endless bottles of Yellowtail and ate vegan bar food while swapping stories. A hush came over the room as the party host took the main chair. We all sat down in an unfamiliar silence waiting for him to speak. He explained the reason we were celebrating as his wife passed out wine and bread for communion. We prayed that we wouldn’t let this meal pass from our memories, consumed the bread and wine then sang some songs. It was this first Maundy Thursday that started a fascination with the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
I was practicing in the Quaker tradition at the time and sacraments were not a part of that. This wasn’t because I was opposed to the sacraments but, I was barely holding onto faith at all. I wasn’t sure whether or not God existed let alone have time to think about communion. Growing up I was taught that it was a symbol and that anyone who believed it was the real body and blood of Christ was a heretic. I was in a prime place in my faith to explore this mystery. Was this sacrament a symbol or was it my Lord and God, Jesus Christ before me?
I had read that I was actually in the minority of whether or not the sacrament was a symbol. There are 1 billion Catholics, 300 million Orthodox, 85 million Anglicans and millions of other mainline Protestant groups who believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It’s safe to say that I believing in the real presence is not heretical. Still, having this info meant little to me since I had yet to experience Christ in the sacrament first hand. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I met Father Kenneth Tanner in a Mansion in Detroit while my old podcast hosted Peter Rollins for an event. We met in passing but, at the pressing of a few friends I agreed to interview my now friend and priest.
We met on a snowy night during Advent in the back of a Church of God building. I expressed my doubts and fears about the Lord’s Supper and Fr. Ken was happy to pastor me through it. We ended our night in agreement that I would receive Christ in the sacrament of communion under his care. A week later for the first time my eyes were opened to Christ’s presence in the bread and wine. In all of the pageantry of calling the Holy Ghost down to transform the cup and having the deacon dip the bread in the wine then placing it on my tongue I was in awe. This was worlds apart from the simple crackers and grape juice I had grown up with. There was depth to the wine become blood and a softness to the bread become body that was humbling. It felt dangerous and scandalous!
What does all of this have to do with Maundy Thursday?
During Holy Week liturgical Christians are intentional about celebrating the entrance of Christ to Jerusalem all the way through his resurrection. While Good Friday gets the main stage in most evangelical circles, every milestone gets its own day to be contemplated for those that follow the liturgical year. Maundy Thursday is the day that we contemplate the humility of Christ in the washing of the disciples’ feet and the consecration of the Mass. We celebrate the sacrifice of Christ made prior to the crucifixion.
I am intentional to say that the sacrifice was made on Maundy Thursday. This might sound heretical or at the very least puzzling to some but, this is a matter of reflection on the meal. At the last supper Jesus, surrounded by his soon to be betrayer, a tax collector, a political zealot and some fishermen invited all of humanity into life. As he lifted the bread into the air, he blessed it and broke it saying “this is my body”; lifting the cup he blessed it, “this is my blood which is poured out for you”. The Apostles consumed it more than likely recalling the conversation we have recorded in John 6:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”
This mystery played out through the cross and summed up in the resurrection is the eternal meal by which all Christians live in Christ. Jesus shares himself at and in the meal as an incarnation and inviting all to sit at the table. St. Athanasius says in his writings “On the Incarnation” that Jesus even while fully human holds together the very fabric of the universe in himself as God. This divine human in Christ is able to take the simple bread and wine of the Eucharist and transform it into an ongoing gift of the incarnation itself.
The Eucharist is an opportunity for Christians to remember that salvation is an invitation freely given by God. Jesus making the sacrifice at the table of the Last Supper shows that no wrath needed to be satisfied in order to give life. There is no Trinitarian issue at play because God the Father does not have to kill God the Son in order to save. Instead of having to craft complex doctrines of penalty, Christians are invited to an eternal life giving meal. It’s no mistake that the first mass was held at a table because God knows that being able to break bread together is the way to peace. When conflict arises in our lives often times we reconcile over good food and choice drinks. It’s natural to do this because at our most basic human need we need to eat and drink; it’s a sign of our humanity. We can more readily see each other as human over a meal and in this revelation of each other we make peace. When we make peace we become what Jesus says in Matthew Ch. 5 “the children of God”.
As a good Father, God, enjoys fostering reconciliation with his children and seeking out the prodigals among us. This is why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. As the dirt and mud rinsed off they were acknowledged as sons lovingly welcomed home. A table was set waiting for their arrival to show them that no matter where they walk they are reconciled and made clean. When we approach the Eucharist we don’t have to worry about our worthiness to participate because God already made clean the feet that will take us there. All we have to do is make our first steps towards the table.
Wherever you find yourself this Maundy Thursday I urge you to meet with others. Participate in a meal and share the bread and wine. Wash each other’s feet and listen to the stories of where those feet have taken you. Before we rush into Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, contemplate the sacrifice of Christ at the table and the life he gave. Be the children of God forever seated at the table of the Lord and be sure to invite the outsider.
- Charlie Porter
On the Incarnation - St. Athanasius
The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass As Heaven On Earth - Scott Hahn