I never know how I’m supposed to feel today. We know how we’ll feel tomorrow and then the third day. We know how we will feel. How things will be tomorrow. We feel that confusion today.
There’s an anticipation to this day we call Maundy Thursday. A day in which the big story’s climax is well underway, but the sense that this is the end for us; the last part which has any role for us. After this, we watch. And wait.
Maundy Thursday | Matthew 26:14-30
We also aren’t sure what to hang our hats on for the day. Is this about the call to service or to community? Is this about the foot washing or the last supper? And running through these thoughts about where to hold onto a thread going into our blessed Triduum, we are reminded of betrayal.
Judas is there.
He’s in the room. Eating with them. Sharing with them. All the while, preparing to tell the authorities where to find Jesus. To bring his master, the Messiah, into arrest, and then execution.
I’m always confused by what to latch onto every year, and what arrests my attention is that Judas is there and Jesus knows about him.
From Judas’s vantage point, this is obvious. Like a spy, or a double agent, his presence is expected. Unexpected is that Jesus would commune with him anyway. Not just eat with him, but share this last moment with him. As a disciple. Equal to the others and with the love and mercy only Jesus can provide.
If we back up a few verses, we hear what the disciples did on Wednesday of Holy Week, the day before the Passover.
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
We remember that only John’s gospel has the footwashing, and in that one, it is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus who anoints Jesus with oil. Here, it is an unnamed woman. But the experience of the disciples is familiar. And the impulse is very familiar. What a waste, we think. Give the money to the poor. Don’t waste it this way.
But do we really take seriously those words of Jesus’s?
“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Not in remembrance of me. But her. We are to remember her when we gather. When we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Her. This unnamed woman. “Wasting” oil by anointing Jesus.
She is the gospel according to Jesus.
We have these two elements, Judas at the Passover meal and the woman anointing Jesus. To this, let’s add one more. The Passover itself.
We remember the Passover is the ultimate story of liberation for the Hebrew people. It is the way God freed the people from slavery in a dramatic expression of devotion. But it was also wedded to memory.
God wanted them to remember the freeing act by re-membering the community.
In gathering each year in a day of holy observance, the family would gather around a table to tell the story and eat the food and remember what God did for them. But not as some hollow ritual which has no literal meaning to it, the sort of pure philosophical symbol-making that has no material consequence. It is to physically connect us to one another to restitch the quilt of community. To re-member us.
So we likewise gather to re-member our own iteration of God’s freeing mercy. Not in the Passover, but in another kind. One which starts before the Passover dinner many, many years ago. When a woman became the gospel and the betrayer ate as one of the included; a stitched-together gathering of those who tradition (and our nature) would exclude.
Stitching together, re-stitching together, re-membering the community in a time of incredible mercy.
We gather tonight to re-member. As we do every Sunday, re-membering the household of God, not as an exclusive group of the elect, chosen by merit and ability, but in spite of it.
We share at a table that is not ours by ownership, but ours in unity–as the site of re-connection in a world ordered by violence and hatred. A table which serves as that point of re-connection, where all are fed. All find mercy. All are loved and call it home.
This is the source of our freedom and restorer of mercy in community. Where none is greater or lesser than any other. And true generosity is on display, not in acts of sacrificial devotion, but of mercy. Of love.
At this table everyone is welcome. Everyone is worthy. And all are restored.
And I’m not sure we can understand the gravity of that until we experience it. Until we are far from it. Or prevented from participating. Or if we only eat with friends we get along with. The people it’s easy to stand or kneel next to. We all need to be re-membered.
In a few moments, we’ll eat at that table together to re-member. As friends, but not all the same. As unique people with a common need to remember and be re-membered.
And before we do that, we will re-member each other intimately. By washing feet and being washed. It isn’t required of course, but it is a strange moment which invites us to set aside our fears. Our sense of “ickiness” or superiority. Inviting us instead to let another person know us and serve us and re-member us.
Not just theoretically, but in reality. To prepare us for the days ahead, washed with mercy and love.