On Preemptive Strikes and Breaking Bread and First Suppers
Tonight we will gather in churches, homes, and community spaces in many ways to worship, fellowship, and hear the story of Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” because it is the night Jesus gives us a new commandment… a new old commandment really. “To love one another.”
As we prepare to gather two messages about this night jump out at me.
The first is that in every account Jesus knows that this meal will end in betrayal and denial, abandonment and death. This is the perfect time for Jesus to launch his preemptive strike. The opportunity we, in our mindset, would use the intelligence information that we have received to strike out at our opponents before they can hit us. Come on Jesus, take Judas down.
And Jesus? Well what we recall of that evening, and are invited to remember over and over again, is that Jesus instead says… “this is my body, broken for you.” When Judas actually does betray and the disciples wish to respond with the sword? There is that pesky counter-intuitive Jesus again saying, “No more of this!” (Luke 22) Jesus’ only preemptive strikes are in love and service – with love and care. There is no place for the use of violence even in the defense of his life. Jesus heals those wounds and moves into the darkness of what is to come with defiant love.
Another thought to put alongside this. This is something it took a Buddhist monk to teach me about Holy Week (thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ). We have a tendency to call this the Last Supper. In what way is this Jesus’ last supper? Only if you do not imagine that Jesus actually rose was this his last supper. He will broil fish with his disciples in just a couple more chapters. We will eat this supper with him over and over again (monthly usually… but in some traditions and places far more than that). This is the first of many such suppers that sits in the tradition of many such meals before it. The feast of unleavened bread – become the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table (or whatever name you give it).
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about it as the First Supper… and his words have never left me since I read them because they are startlingly true to me. They are filled with the love Jesus commands of us on this Commandment Thursday. I will leave you with just some of his words,
In the Jewish tradition, the sacred of meal-times is very much emphasized. You cook, set the table, and eat in the presence of God… It is very close to the Buddhist appreciation of interbeing and inter-penetration. When you wake up, you are aware that God created the world… Christianity is a kind of continuation of Judaism, as is Islam. All the branches belong to the same tree. In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and wine as the body of God, we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment. The message of Jesus during the Seder that has become known as the Last Supper was clear. His disciples had been following Him. They had had the chance to look in His eyes and see Him in person, but it seems they had no yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is My body. This is My blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness.
When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell. They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body. The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life… When we pick up a piece of bread, we can do it with mindfulness, with Spirit. The bread, the Host, becomes the object of deep love and concentration… when we practice this way, every meal is the Last Supper. In fact, we could call it the First Supper, because everything will be fresh and new.