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Editor’s note: Nancy Kennedy has taken a few days off. This column, one of her favorites, ran in 2005.
A year or so ago, Newsweek surveyed several thousand people asking, “What is the one thing you would like somebody to say to you?”
Of the top three answers, the first was “I love you.” The second was “I forgive you” and the third was “Come and eat!”
Don’t you love that?
I love you. I forgive you. Come and eat!
At my church, we meet every Maundy Thursday for a communion service. It’s generally quite solemn and sober (yet joyous) as we meditate on the final words and actions of Jesus the night before his death.
Years ago, the seniors of our congregation would meet before the service began for a pot luck dinner. One year I convinced a friend that it was an all-congregation dinner and that we should go and get a free dinner. We were both short on cash and I was hungry and knew there would be more than enough food for us.
Besides, I also knew that (a) we were loved and (b) even if it turned out that we were committing a heinous sin by not bringing a bowl of potato salad or a pecan pie, we were forgiven. Not that we would be forgiven, but that we already were. As it turned out, even though we were obviously not seniors, we were welcomed, loved and forgiven. And well-fed.
Although I only did that once — crashing a party to get a free dinner — I think about that night every year as holy week approaches. I think about coming to the table, loved and forgiven. That’s what Maundy Thursday is about.
The gospels record Jesus hosting a meal for his dearest friends. It was Passover and the last Passover meal they would share together on earth. The following day Jesus would die, after having been betrayed by one of his friends.
In the middle of the meal, Christ, the King, gets down on his knees and, one by one, washes his friends’ dirty, dusty, stinky feet. He lets them know he loves them, knowing they would all, one way or another, abandon him.
After he’s done he tells them that they are to wash one another’s feet, to love each other sacrificially and uncomfortably, with no thought to status or even lovableness.
Then Jesus holds up a piece of unleavened bread, breaks it and says, “This is my body, broken for you.” He lifts up a cup of wine and tells them, “This is my blood, shed for you.” He urges them to eat, drink — and to remember him as often as they do.
Next, they sing hymns and go to a garden to pray. That’s where the festivities end and the nightmare that is Christ’s passion — his arrest, trial and crucifixion — begins.
Sometimes in our Easter preparations, between Palm Sunday and the ham and the jelly beans and the Marshmallow Peeps buying and the shouting of “He is risen!” on Resurrection morning, sometimes Maundy Thursday gets lost.
Sometimes churches skip over it. For many years I skipped over it. But I don’t want to do that any more. It’s part of the story, the whole Easter experience. The repenting , as well as the rejoicing, the remembering , as well as the glad hallelujahs. The blessed Last Supper was also the first holy communion. It’s our visual, sensory reminder that he was and is and is to come again and that, in the meantime, we’re to love, forgive and feed one another. It was his “mandatum,” his “maundy” or command.
One year at my church we tried something new for Maundy Thursday. Similar to walking the Stations of the Cross as they do in liturgical churches, we journeyed in our worship as pilgrims at various stations around the church, praying, singing, listening to the scriptures being read and explained, meditating, confessing.
We ended up at the Lord’s table, eating and drinking and remembering that he was broken and that he bled for those he calls his own. When we finished, we heard from God the top three things people most want to hear: “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “Come and eat!”
Jesus invites all who want to taste forgiveness to come to the party. Crashers are most welcome. Just come hungry.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.