Today is Maundy Thursday.
Today we mark the day Jesus met with the twelve disciples in the Upper Room, and shared what is now called the Last Supper with them. It is also the time that we remember Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives, and his anguish knowing what the next day would bring.
It is from this meal that we take the tradition of Holy Communion, a meal of fellowship and remembrance. Christian cultures across the world have many names for it, including Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, The Blessed Sacrament, and the Lord’s Supper, yet the act of sharing a form of wine/grape juice and bread in remembrance of Jesus is nearly universal.
In it, we remember the act of Jesus offering his body and blood to the disciples, as he would the next day for all humanity. It is both an extremely personal act, and one that binds all of humanity together. When we practice communion together, we search our hearts and prepare ourselves to take the sacred offering. We also practice a communal meal, where we are reminded in each other’s presence that we are all equally broken, and all equally saved by God’s grace.
This is how the event is told in Luke 22:14-21:
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Afterwards, (Luke 22:39-44)
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Countless depictions of the Last Supper have been made, endless commentaries on all the meanings of this event, and many different forms of the ceremony across different Christian cultures and beliefs. In this time of Easter, let us reflect on what this meal means to us, and the sacrifice it represents. And let us remember what the disciples went through when Jesus offered the bread and wine to them, foretelling that his body would be broken, his blood spilled to fulfill God’s grace and redemption for us all.
This grace is new every day, Jesus’ sacrifice poured out for our sins. As another year goes by, and we mark our Easter older and more cynical than the year before, it can be easy to practice this sacred rite with wooden hearts, to think of an event that happened over two thousand years ago, instead of a reality that is just as fresh now as it was then.
Whenever we practice communion, may we endeavour to have our hearts as open as the first time we took the cup and bread. Let us prepare our hearts, minds and souls for God’s grace, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning. (Lamentations 19:22)
Father God, let us remember today the meal you shared with the disciples, and your suffering and doubt as you faced what must come in the day ahead. Let us remember that each day we are refreshed in your grace and mercy, and hold in our hearts the knowledge and truth of the greatest sacrifice you have made for us. May we meet together in Holy Communion, remembering you, and what it means for us to share together our faith in you, and faithful community in one another. In Christ’s name, Amen.