The Lord's Supper
When I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?
It probably wasn’t until I was in seminary that I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, Mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment on Thursday of Holy Week, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.
Theologian and historian Leonard Sweet, a professor at Drew Theological School, identifies different levels of human relationships (which are all named for metals) that lead up to the New Commandment that Jesus gives at his Last Supper:
The first level of relationship is the Iron Rule—Do unto others before they do unto you
We see this during Jesus’ time when those with the leprosy or other diseases were forced to be outcast. The religious laws banished them from the community because they were unclean. In fact they had to yell, “unclean, unclean” when walking near anyone so people could keep their distance. They would become unclean by touching an outcast, so they banished them first. We hear the Iron Rule in some of today’s political rhetoric that promises to prevent Muslims from coming into the country and to enact aggressive neighborhood surveillance of Muslim communities. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.
The next level of relationship Sweet identifies is the Silver Rule--Do unto others as they do unto you.
The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism. I think this is why we love movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, offering a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we don’t trust others, we hang back, only responding to others based on how they treat us.
Then we move up to the Golden Rule – and every major religion has a version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others how you would like to be treated. We all learned this in elementary school, and I think we’re all the better for it. We hear the Golden Rule in Jesus’ summary of the two greatest commandments in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
We just visited Knox College in IL with our daughter earlier this week and one of the values there is the Honor Code. This allows students to take their tests anywhere they like—under a tree outside or in a study carrel in the library—without a professor present. This principle is based on the Golden Rule—the faculty invests in the students the same honor and trust the students accord them. There is a drawback to the Golden Rule, however—it’s limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own culture or experience. So the Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations. The way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.
So Leonard Sweet then identifies the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We have to get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we all do everyday because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship to marriage, to parent-child relationships to cross-cultural dialog.
We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants. Asking this question, What do you need us to do? has been an important task of the Ferguson Commission that was set up in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. In order to build a just society, we need to really listen to what African Americans, especially young men, are experiencing in our law enforcement and justice systems, most especially when it’s different from our own experience.
Which brings us to today, Maundy Thursday, when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships with a New Commandment.
Leonard Sweet calls this the Titanium Rule. I give you a new commandment, says Jesus, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35)
What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?
On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it.
• Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
• Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
• Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
• He’s facing a painful death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.
If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and painful hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you?
Personally, I would want to ask them to leave before dessert, so I could take solace in the whole chocolate raspberry cheesecake. But, what does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill, dessert included. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus doesn’t stop there. He dives even deeper.
Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is
• to serve those who fail you,
• to embrace the ones who hurt you,
• to indulge the ones who don’t show up when you need them most.
Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Maybe Monday Thursday is a good name for today because this may be our least favorite commandment.
Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-whatever- ex-friend, ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend. That’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow. Others’ behavior has no bearing on our behavior and choices—choose love, choose service, and choose forgiveness regardless of how others act.
How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to the table of the Lord's Supper where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am.
And he already knows—he already knows that every one of us will abandon, deny and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, Come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, to love, to forgive. Jesus says, Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on.
Message for Christmas Eve on Luke 2:1-20 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Sometimes I try to imagine what Mary was thinking about on that trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She was losing whoever stood by her in this unplanned pregnancy. She had to know that she would not make it back to Nazareth to deliver this baby—so her mind must have been full of questions. Where will she deliver? Who will help her? Will Jospeh’s distant relatives welcome her?—These are all anxieties around the question: How will my needs be met?
Mary, the Mother of our Lord faces the same question we all do, no matter our circumstances, gender, age, or stage in life, because life and it’s challenges are always changing around us. How will my needs be met?—
- How will my needs be met as I age?
- How will my needs be met with no health insurance?
- How will my needs be met as I live with so much grief
- or with inflation of whatever anxieties raise questions in your own mind.
We all know how Mary’s needs were met—not ideal circumstances, by any means, but they did have a roof over their head, and she had help. Joseph’s relatives did take them in, but traveling slowly, they were the last ones to arrive. The “inn,” which is not a motel as we imagine it, but is really the “guest room” of a home—was already full, as was the rest of the house. The only free space was at the front end of the home, off the living platform, where the animals stayed at night lending their warmth to the whole household.
But there is another clue in the story that lets us know that not only Mary’s needs will be met in the future, but all our needs, too. We have heard it perhaps a hundred times, but maybe never paused to ponder in our hearts the true meaning it conveys.
It’s the word, “manger”—did you notice that Luke repeats the word 3 times? A careful writer usually picks another word to avoid repetition. After using the word, "manger” the first time, one would pick “feeding box” or “trough” the second time, or possibly, “in the hay” the third time, instead of “manger" over and over again.
But not Luke, He makes no effort at literary variety and in fact, does the opposite. He seems quite intent on making sure we read or hear that word, “manger” at least 3 times: Mary laid Jesus, this Messiah, in a manger; the angel tells the shepherds the sign will be a baby lying in a manger; the shepherds go and find Jesus just as the angels said, “lying in a manger.”
Why the repetition of this one word, this feed box for donkeys, sheep and goats?
By using the word, manger repeatedly, Luke foreshadows, in neon, truths about this Messiah he wants us to watch for in Jesus’ mission of nourishment, care and sustenance.
For this Savior will grow up and take 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and feed 5,000 people. Jesus will become the manger for hungry people, feeding them, providing for their physical needs.
This Messiah, will grow up and touch lepers and restore sight—healing people. Jesus will become the manger of healing nourishment for people seeking for their bodies to made whole.
This Messiah will grow up and welcome sinners, and the outcast and rejected, and provide the soul sustenance of community, forgiveness, and acceptance –the bread of new life. Jesus will become the manger of shared community where all are welcome.
And this Messiah now lying in a manger, will take the bread of the Passover and say, "this is my body given for you," and this Messiah, will take the cup of wine and say, "this is my blood shed for you."
This Messiah, lying in a manger, will feed us with his very life—with his body broken and blood outpoured,
• so that we might have forgiveness, and life,
• so that we might have strength and love,
• so that we might have nourishment and peace now and through eternity.
The Messiah and Savior, first held in the feed box for animals, becomes our food—providing us with every source of sustenance and nurture we could ever need or imagine.
Yes, Mary did have her needs met, and so do we. Our Savior Jesus Christ, born among the family of creation, human and animal together, lying in a manger, provides for all our needs—physical, emotional, spiritual, communal, eternal.
So, ask the Lord for what you need this Christmas, this new year. Trust the Messiah in the manger, and the Christ risen and present at this Table to be your eternal source of sustenance, offering you the hope, peace, joy, and love you need for today, tomorrow, and always.