Life is shared at the dinner table through laughter, smiles, groans, conversations, and stories. Much the same can be said of Jesus’ Last Supper. The gathered shared a meal and a psalm. We can imagine that they talked about their travels, shared some favorite stories, and discussed their hopes for the coming Passover. This sharing is the spirituality of the table, be it the Eucharistic table or the kitchen table.
The Thursday of the Mysteries/Maundy Thursday is the day set aside to recognize institution of Holy Communion and a new act of fellowship and love by Jesus before his death the next day. The Apostles Creed asserts that this communion of the saints is more than just a memorial of the past but an ever present reality by the power of the Holy Spirit, the communion of the saints. I grew up with the idea that this was “Saints” with an upper case “S.” This communion was the union of all past Christian with God and said nothing about the communion God has with us in the here and now. I have come to see that this “communion in the here and now” is the most real in the sharing of Holy Communion and acts of love that one shares with another. The Nicene Creed words it differently. In it we are a “one, Holy, Catholic (Universal), and Apostolic Church. We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” We are sent out into the world as a collective of baptized, forgiven, holy, and changed people, changed by the love of God.
It is on Maundy Thursday that Jesus instituted these new acts of love, the sharing of broken bread and poured wine and a footwashing. He did so by creating a welcoming space through psalms, prayers, and a common meal. In this safe and welcoming place, Jesus brought his friends and companions face to face (1st Corinthians 1:12) with the Divine, the God who is Love. Such a reality of kindness, love, and humility manifested in the bread and wine drove Judas out into the night and in the footwashing inspired doubts in Peter.
The regular Sunday experience does much the same thing. The priest, deacon (possibly), and lay volunteers create a welcoming worship environment through prayer, a psalm, and readings. The readings are interpreted and sometimes masterfully. Then the worship experience shifts and the Divine is brought near. Bread is broken and wine is poured. For many, sadly too many, this has become routine and not nearly as inspiring as it should be. The Divine is present but many are not in the emotional or spiritual place to see it.
I have had the good fortune to be a part of several new experiences that seek to change this sad reality. These experiences have opened me up, inspired vulnerability, and granted healing all in fellowship with other Christians and the Divine. These new experiences have been in an auto body shop, my home, and most recently at Edge House (a campus ministry at University of Cincinnati).
The Movable Feasts have through Scripture, location, and a shared meal prompted conversation around our human brokenness and discernment. In a local Norwood auto body shop we discussed our brokenness, the grace found in the breaking, and the art of being made whole again. When the Moveable Feast moved into the home, we discussed discernment and how to let things go in appropriate and timely ways. Then, as is custom, bread was broken and wine was poured. Look, the Divine is here and always has been. The Movable Feasts conversations were between us and God as well.
Recently, I had been invited into the Upper Room of Edge House. Sunday April 6th was their Last Supper NOSH (Sunday dinner and liturgy). Sadly, this year’s Holy Week falls smack dab during UC’s finals. Their Maundy Thursday was moved back and their Easter commemoration is being push forward. In the Upper Room we reclined on pillows and through some biblical storytelling shared a meal with Judas, Thomas, Mary of Magdala, John the Beloved, and Peter. We were invited to be scared, doubtful, resentful, and confused. In short we were invited back into Jesus’ Upper Room.
Jesus yet again has said something crazy and weird and we are invited to respond. Our stories were added to that Maundy Thursday story through the five disciples. We shared our concerns, our discernments, our doubts, and as the dinner progress eventually we even offered some encouragement to each other. The experience brought home to us the reality of the Psalms. The Psalms show that we can relate to God through all of our emotions. This dinner breathed new life into this old liturgical commemoration by showing that we can relate to God in the same diverse emotional selves at the Last Supper. And when all was said and done, Pastor Alice broke bread and poured wine. The bread and cup were passed and with it God was experience.
These new practices are breathing new life into those old rituals. And they don’t dismiss the Sunday experience in the slightest. I have left each experience with the energy and vigor to see Sunday anew. I long to hear not just a gospel reading and psalm but also an epistle and Old Testament reading. I long to hear the hymns sung (both old favorites and new). Tradition supports the new and the new is revitalizing tradition. We are the community of saints, the forgiven baptized, the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church regardless of what our outer appearance looks like. Amen.