On Maundy Thursday, Jesus ate with a bunch of working class fishermen, social misfits and so called “friends” – who would soon royally screw him over.
In the traditions surrounding Maundy Thursday we sometimes miss the awkwardness that was thick in the room, and I don’t just mean the motley crew. Let’s be real, when’s the last time you sat for a meal and someone at the table said, “yea, I’m probably about to dangle dead nailed to a cross, so remember me and my teachings.”
We read this story of Jesus sharing a meal on Thursday of Holy Week in the Gospels and in Pauls’ writings. Though the accounts vary they have a similar message: Jesus uses wine (his blood) and bread (his body) symbolically as a signpost for something far greater.
In Mark’s telling of the story covenant language is used as he reaches back to the community’s Jewish roots. In Exodus 24:1-8 Israel makes a covenant with God that’s sealed with blood. Jesus seals his new covenant, a covenant of love over law, with his friends. As in Exodus, the promise was to benefit the many.
Often this is where Christians read into the text that Jesus was saying, “I’m dying to pay a sin-debt that “the many” have to God.” But that’s where they get it wrong, Jesus didn’t say he’s a payment for the sins of the many. As Marcus Borg says, “Sealing a covenant with blood and substitutionary sacrifice are not the same thing.”
So then why Maundy Thursday – if not in preparation for the sin-debt sacrifice, then what is it that we are remembering?
It all comes back to Jesus being faithful unto death. As Jesus sits at his table with sinners, washes their feet in total humility, he tells them his plans. He plans to stay faithful to non-violent revolutionary love. Love that does not conquer through control, violence or power…love that reveals the very nature and being of God and what God is up to in the world. Love that doesn’t make much sense, because it usually frustrates the powers and principalities in control, which gets people killed – and it ain’t fun being crucified.
In Jesus, God revealed what love and faithfulness are, and how devotion to God is a radically subversive, loving, grace-filled act of beauty and justice for the redemption, recreation and resurrection of the world.