On a rainy Spring night in Ohio, I sit down at my desk to write these words. For the past few days, I have been reflecting on Jesus as mystery, and how we are to have a mindset of experiencing Him rather than solving Him, and a heart filled with wonder, not formulas.
And then it occurred to me – tonight is Maundy Thursday.
This week denotes “Passion Week” in Christendom – the week leading up to Easter Sunday, beginning with Palm Sunday and concluding on Easter Sunday. The Thursday of Passion Week is known as “Maundy Thursday,” where members of certain churches gather to celebrate the events of the Last Supper, where Jesus also established the institution of Communion, also known as the Eucharist.
Eucharist is the term some of the first followers of Jesus used to describe what we know today as Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 11 when he talks about the institution of Communion in the local church: “On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it.” Jesus Himself also uses the word when He moves from the bread to the wine in Mark 14: “And He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it.” So, the word Eucharist means, “to give thanks,” or “to be truly grateful.” Thus we, according to Paul, are instructed to perform this ritual and remember the great sacrifice Christ offered – His body, the bread, broken in pieces, and His blood, poured out for the initiation of a new covenant, a new relationship, between God and His people. Further, the word Eucharist actually comes from the Greek word eucharizomai, which itself is a combination of two Greek words – eu, meaning “good,” and “charizomai,” meaning “to grant or give.” So, Eucharist can also be translated as “the good gift.” In other words, by remembering Christ’s sacrifice, we remember and acknowledge “how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Putting these two meanings of Eucharist together then, we can say that the institution of the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a time of thankful remembrance of God’s good gift for the world – Jesus. And to that I say, “Hallelujah! Amen!”
But wait…there’s more.
Why is there more? Well, in my last post, I used this statement: “It’s possible to be so caught up with what God did back then that you’re not open to the new thing that God is doing right here, right now.” You’re probably asking yourself, “Isn’t it a good thing to be caught up with what God did back then? Isn’t that the whole point of remembering and giving thanks anyway? To remember what God did back then through Jesus?” To which the answer of course is…yes! Here’s the thing though – there’s a difference between understanding Christ’s sacrifice as something done for you, and something done in you.
Let me explain. We know that Christ’s sacrifice was the way that “God demonstrated his love for us” (Romans 5:8). We know that when He cried, “It is finished,” it really was finished (John 19:30). We know that “God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10). When we talk about these verses, we talk about something that been done for us, a past, historical incident. But when we talk about something that has been done in us, we are talking about a present, ongoing reality. This means that while you talk about Christ’s sacrifice for you back then, you also talk about how “Christ lives in you” (Colossians 1:27). While you talk about how God demonstrated His love for you, you also talk about Jesus’s “new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” (John 13:34-35). And while you talk about how the cross was sufficient and the victory was accomplished completely, you also talk about how we are to be a “living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).
Ultimately, there’s no dichotomy between the for us and in us. As a result of Christ’s complete work being done for us in the past, we are called in the present to live our lives in such a way that demonstrates Christ in us – which was always the point to begin with. Paul puts it this way: we “continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10). And this takes “daily yielding,” a dying to ambition, self-seeking gratification, and pride, to pursue the life, wholeness, and joy found in Christ.
So, how does this tie into the Eucharist? It’s really easy once something has been institutionalized and ritualized to allow it to stop there, to let it be another Communion service, another Mass, another Breaking of Bread service where we sing the same songs and read the same verses and talk about what Christ did for us the same way and pray the same prayers and…you get the point. Just another cognitive exercise. But the buck doesn’t stop there. The remembrance of Christ’s body being broken and His blood being poured out should motivate us to live lives that are broken and poured out for the sake of Jesus and the good news that He brings. We should be dripping with good works, being the hands and feet of Jesus, the Church, all the while loving people and showing them by this love that we do indeed follow Him. Anne Lamott said that one of the greatest sermons you can preach is, “Me too.” When we live our lives in a Eucharistic way, we are actively remembering the Last Supper and obeying the commandment Jesus issued during the supper, which was to love your neighbor as yourself by being a servant leader. May this Maundy Thursday be the day we start not just statically remembering the Lord’s work for us, but actively remembering it by allowing it to be a reality true of our own lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
1. The next time you experience a Communion/Eucharist service, allow the remembrance of the institution to propel you into a life broken and poured out for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
2. Be open to the new thing that God wants to do in you, as a result of having accomplished something for you.
3. Allow some aspect of yourself to be used as a gift for someone else to be thankful for – your time, energy, money, service, etc.
3. Always carry an umbrella around if you live in Ohio!