Last Gifts

Thursday, April 5, 2012 –Maundy Thursday

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)

Psalms 102 (morning) // 142, 143 (evening)

Lamentations 2:10-18

1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:27-32

Mark 14:12-25

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

You can sense the tenseness in the air. First, there is the tension and energy of the Passover feast. Throngs of visitors clamored into Jerusalem. There would have been an enormous crowd at the Temple that afternoon where the Paschal lambs were sacrificed and distributed to the people for their Seder suppers that evening. This is the annual Jewish remembrance of their delivery from slavery and oppression. The Roman military was on high alert. Jewish aspirations for freedom and liberation were never so fevered as during Passover. Maybe this would be the Passover year when God delivers his people again.

The second tension is the anxiety that is present among the friends and followers of Jesus. He is a marked and hunted man. On Sunday he hit the radar of the Romans, entering Jerusalem in the exact way that the prophets had imagined the coming of the new Messianic King. No one missed the imagery. The peasants had picked up on it immediately, grabbing palm branches and crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Now the Romans have him on their watch list for potential sedition. They’ll react swiftly and violently if there is any hint of challenge. There is no king but Caesar.

On Monday Jesus attacked the Temple. He disrupted the profitable commerce in certified, inspected, unblemished sacrificial animals for the rituals necessary for the forgiveness of sins. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers who exchanged the profane secular Roman coinage with its offensive image of Caesar. The Temple made a nice profit on these services. Jesus insulted the entire Temple system and its authorities. This cannot be allowed. Powerful interested have determined, they want him dead.

The arrangements for the Passover meal for Jesus and his friends sound like a spy story. Two of the disciples will go into the city and look for a man carrying water. That won’t be hard to spot. Carrying water is women’s work. Follow him, say the code sentence at the door, and they will let you in. Make the preparations there.

It is tense. This may be the last time Jesus can gather safely with his friends. Betrayal is in the air. What will he do? This is his last chance to teach, to reinforce the message that he has been living all this time. How will he leave them with enough for them to make it through the upcoming challenges?

“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

That’s it. That’s his last gift to them. It will capture, summarize and symbolize everything he taught and everything he is. Through the lens of the broken bread and the cup poured out the disciples will interpret his death. In the breaking of the bread they will recognize his resurrection. In the shared bread and wine, they will know him to be present with them forever. In the common meal, they will know themselves to be one with each other. From this table they will be fed, nourished, healed, unified and strengthened. For centuries. To the end of time. It is enough.

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