In the Lenten journey, God has been present in our lamenting, self-searching and preparation. We have walked with God in our wilderness and climbed with God on the high mountain. We have trusted in the waiting and the “no’s”. We have persevered with God when our home did not feel like home. In all these places God has been with us. This day marks the beginning of the end.
Thursday. Some call it Holy Thursday, others Maundy Thursday. The name ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin for ‘new commandment’ which Christ gave his disciples at the Last Supper. In the time of Jesus, the meal was a sacred time of connection and shared life. One of the reasons that Christians around the world still celebrate this night each year is to remind themselves that the call to come and sit at the table and eat a holy meal together is still a vital part of community.
We are all welcome. We are all equal at this table.
The table is a permanent reminder that we are never to forget to gather, be honest and share the gift of Jesus. At sundown, Jesus and his disciples settled down to enjoy the Passover Feast. On the table before them were the ritual foods: the roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread, and wine. The foods were consumed at the designated times throughout the evening ceremony. The symbols of this supper were handed down from the time of Moses. Within this context, Jesus instituted a new feast. A feast to celebrate our spiritual redemption purchased with his life—freedom from the bonds of sin and death.
There is a moment after dinner where Jesus and his disciples go to a garden.
It is not irony that humanity disobeyed God in a garden and lost relationship with God; Jesus obeyed God in a garden and secured salvation for us;
and that scripture tells us that we will spend all of eternity in a garden like environment.
No irony at all.
Jesus knows the cross is coming and that he alone can face it. But at this moment, he truly hopes that there is some other way.
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.*
In hearing these words we find the humanness of our savior. He hesitates. His prayer is one of anguish and pain, begging that he might be spared the humiliating death at the hands of his executioners. He enters into the garden weighed down. Nothing could prepare him for what is about to take place and yet he goes into the garden and awaits it.
I’m so thankful that Jesus prayed this prayer. On so many occasions, my prayers have been similar – save me the agony, the pain, the embarrassment, the anger, the rage, the shame. And then, in the depths of his pain, Jesus does what so few human beings have ever been able to accomplish and lets go. He stopped fighting, begging, pleading, manipulating, screaming, scheming, undermining, and he released his will. He lets go. Not as I will, but as you will.
The imagery of a cup is perfect for the setting. They have all just left the table hours earlier. To drink out of a cup you have to choose to pick it up, bring it to your mouth, and drink. Jesus is making a choice here – there is no element of surprise, coercion, or coincidence. He knows what is coming.
When we pray this prayer we are saying to God I will do whatever you ask–because I trust you. Maundy Thursday is a day of highest highs and lowest lows. It shows us the joy of what could be and the demonstrated pain of loss. The joy of the feast at the table is real and the pain of the coming truth is revealed. Things will never be the same.
*New International Version – UK