There was once a man who was very proud. “I have no need for church,” he said. “I have earned all the respect I will ever need from my scientific community. Look at my awards displayed so beautifully in my office!” That night the man died. As he was ushered into the presence of God, the Lord said: “Depart from me, worker of iniquity.” “But, but,” the man stuttered, “I tried to find you in nature and you weren’t there, I tried to find you in philosophy and you weren’t there; why should I be sent away from paradise when I honestly searched for you?” God responded: “When you were a child you knew me, you were baptized into my name, but as you grew you despised my name when you left the church, you despised my community when you left my people, and you despised my food when you chose to dine with false gods. Now, depart from me!” It is no trivial thing to despise the true God and his true bride, the church. The moral as we come to this table is: “Don’t despise the body. Don’t forsake your Lord. This table is yours.
The Resurrection of Jesus created this newly gathered body, called the Church. Of course, the Church had existed since the Garden but never has the Church possessed such glory, such overflowing joy, and such unity than when she was bathed in the Resurrection waters. The Old Church needed a thorough cleansing, and from the empty tomb flowed these rivers of life that begin this washing and cleansing of Christ’s Bride. Christ was raised for the sake of His Bride and World.
This meal is a continual celebration of the empty tomb. This is why this is a table of joy. The last Supper is now replaced with a new Supper each time we meet. And because this is a new meal it never becomes bitter to our taste. His mercies are new each time we gather as Resurrected people. Come and eat.
Let me provide a few practical lessons from Philippians as you all will soon gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving and have dominion over one of God’s greatest gifts to us, food.
First, beware of a contentious spirit. It has been said that the most contentious table in America is the Thanksgiving table. My expectation for myself and for you is that you treat others with dignity and disagree respectfully. I have said before that our example and our children’s example are the best and most convincing marks of our worldview. Whether we are dealing with fellow believers or unbelievers, we are both called to love them and know when the limit of a conversation has been reached. Paul says that as much as it is possible live in peace with all men. Do not become the one that everyone fears around the table; the one who will turn a question on the weather into a discussion on the teleological necessities of an epistemic self-conscious worldview. Learn to discuss something besides that which everyone knows is the only thing you talk about.
Secondly, keep your eyes open to those who are in need when you gather this coming week. There may have been much pain and sorrow that have transpired in the lives of family members in a space of twelve months. Paul says in chapter two of Philippians: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love…” You may have the opportunity to be a good counselor to those grieving in your family or to a friend.
Third, practice lots of thanksgiving. Use your traveling this coming week with your family to remember the good things God has done for you. And if you happen to be in a difficult time in your life, give thanks for what God is going to do in your story. Your story is not a one chapter book. It is filled with drama and joy and glory. And if you think our Triune God is done writing your story, you need a bigger view of the God we worship.
Finally, rejoice in a way that would make pagans jealous. A pagan looks at a bottle of wine and says: “I drink for my own satisfaction.” A Christian looks at the same bottle and says: “I drink to the glory of God!” Set a good example of moderation and festiveness. Thanksgiving–not only because of its glorious Christian history in this country– but for many other reasons, is a distinctly Christian celebration. We have reason to rejoice and to give thanks. Let’s feast like Christians!
Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin Mandatum. The word comes from Jesus’ command on the Last Supper to love one another just as He loved them (Lk. 24). The message of love is very much central to the Gospel message. Evangelicals are all too quick to set the topic of love aside because it draws our attention away from the more important doctrinal disputes and discussions. Yet Paul and our blessed Lord keep bringing us back to this theme of love. God is love. No, love is not God, but it is very much a foundational aspect of all His actions toward us in Christ Jesus.
Maundy Thursday then becomes a special historical reminder that we are called to be a people of love. Paul refers to the useless instruments in his I Corinthians 13. If love is absent, our actions become like those clanging cymbals. The very core of Paul’s love narrative in I Corinthians occurs in the midst of a dying Church. Paul’s application then is an ecclesiastical command. In the same manner our blessed Lord on the night in which he was betrayed– by that unclean man called Judas– called us to a greater ethic. It was not an ethic foreign to our Lord. What Jesus commands is first and foremost something he has experienced and displayed already. To a greater and cosmic extent, our Lord proves that love in a cross of hate. But this is love personified in the God/Man. By sacrificing Himself on that cruel tree He turned the symbol of hate into one of the most beloved symbols in the Christian life.
It is then very appropriate that our Lord would command us to love as a response to the Last Supper. This is the case because in the Supper we are being re-oriented in our affections for one another. The Supper is a meal of love and Jesus would transform that meal in His resurrection. He would glorify love for His new disciples. He would become Himself the manna from heaven that would bring joy to this newly created community.
Love is most clearly displayed and obeyed in this new fellowship of disciples we call the Church. This is why Maundy Thursday was a significant historical event. It was not just a didactic lesson for the disciples, it was also a meal that sealed the theme of love for this new community that would emerge from the darkness of the tomb.