Holy Thursday: The Table of Freedom
By Steve Manskar
Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the Great Three Days in which Jesus was betrayed, tried, beaten, tortured to death on a cross, and raised from the dead. That night Jesus shared one final meal with his disciples. In the texts we read today we hear the story of how after the meal Jesus took the role of a servant by stripping down to his undergarments, wrapping a towel around his waist and, one by one, washed the feet of his disciples. In other words, the Lord of the Universe, the Redeemer, Judge, and Ruler of all that has been, all that is, and all that will be, got on his knees to wash the feet of fishermen, tax collectors, and the man he knew would betray him.
In this simple act Jesus taught those who follow him the meaning of true leadership. The one who is known as Lord of lords and King of kings became the servant of ordinary people. He took upon himself titles of domination and entitlement and turned them upside-down and inside-out. Jesus emptied them of the meaning the world as we know it filled them with and turned them into something new. Jesus the Lord and King is the servant of all. He came to serve rather than to be served. His power is revealed in love rather than domination.
Jesus’ way of love is revealed most profoundly at the table. In the sharing of food and drink, ordinary elements of every day life, we see that love is the power of God. Much of Jesus’ ministry happened at table with ordinary people. He shared the good news of the reign of God breaking into the world while sharing bread and wine. Table fellowship was, for Jesus, a sign of God’s reign at work in the world.
On his last night with his friends Jesus told them how to remember. When they break bread, remember his body broken for them and for the world. When they drink wine together, remember his blood spilled for the forgiveness of sins. At the table, in the broken bread, the wine, and in the company of one another he will be present with them. When they eat the bread and drink the wine, his life will become part of their life. When they leave the table and go into the world he goes with them.
The power of breaking bread and drinking wine at table with friends as a means of re-presenting Christ’s presence with us and in the world are confirmed on the evening of the first Easter day. Luke recounts the story of how two downcast friends of Jesus encountered a stranger on the road to Emmaus. They were discouraged because their friend had been killed and then his body stolen from the tomb. The stranger then told them everything the Scriptures said about the events of the past week. They were amazed by his teaching. When they reached their home they invited the stranger to spend the night. Something unusual happened when they sat around the dinner table. The stranger assumed the role of the host. He took the bread. He gave thanks. When he broke the bread the eyes of the two were opened. Suddenly they recognized the stranger as the risen Jesus. Then he was gone. Their response was to immediately get up and run back to Jerusalem to tell all their friends what had happened.
At the table, in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, in communion with one another, Christ is really present and he gives himself to us. Our sins are forgiven. With Christ in us we are set free to live and love as his representatives in the world. When we come to the table the chains of sin are broken. When we come to the table we leave behind the selfish, self-centered, narcissism of the world. We come to the table to receive grace in the form of bread and wine that convey into us the very stuff of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and love. His way becomes our way. His life becomes our life. His love becomes our love. At the table Jesus sets us free to become fully the persons God created us to be, in the image of Christ.
On Holy Thursday we come to the table of freedom. We gather to recall that awful night when Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his friends. We come to the table to receive his love in the form of bread and wine. His love is the power that equips and enables us to serve as he serves. The love we receive at the table makes it possible for us to humble ourselves and become servants with Christ in the world. At the table we realize that real freedom is obedience to the commandments of Christ Jesus to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; love our neighbor as ourselves; and to love one another as Christ loves, for loving one another will witness to the world whose disciples we are.
In that sad memorial night,
When Jesus was for us betrayed,
He left his death-recording rite,
He took, and blessed, and broke the bread,
And gave his own their last bequest,
And thus his Love’s intent expressed.
Take eat, this is my body given,
To purchase life and peace for you,
Pardon and holiness and heaven;
Do this, my dying love to show,
Accept your precious legacy,
And thus, my friends, remember me.
He took into his hands the cup,
To crown the sacramental feast,
And full of kind concern looked up,
And gave what he to them had blest,
And drank ye all of this, he said,
In solemn memory of the dead.
This is my blood which seals the new
Eternal covenant of my grace,
My blood so freely shed for you,
For you and all the sinful race,
My blood that speaks your sins forgiven,
And justifies your claim to heaven.
The grace which I to all bequeath
In this divine memorial take,
And mindful of your Savior’s death,
Do this, my followers, for my sake,
Whose dying love hath left behind
Eternal life for all mankind.