Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday (The Mass of the Last Supper)

1 Corinthians 11:20-32 / John 13:1-15

For I have received from the Lord that which I also delivered unto you ...

Why would we hand over something that had been given to us? We might do so because we have been forced to do so, in which case we do so with sadness. We might do so because what we have, while appreciated and treasured in its own way, but which is no longer of use to us, no longer fits the man or woman we have become, and this too is often filled with sadness, or at least bittersweet. We might do so because what he had been given is indifferent or even positively loathsome to us, and parting with it could not be done soon enough.

There are some things we have received, however, that handing on to someone else is at one and the same time a cause for joy and yet eagerly done. We share good news this way or a cake we have just baked. At a more profound level, we teach our children language, culture, how to get along in the world, and in doing so hope not to make them into ourselves, but, by equipping them with the means of being human even as we had been so equipped by our parents, hope to help them come to be the very new, wonderful, interesting people they are. Indeed, we are careful to hand on not what it idiosyncratic and peculiar, but what is shared, precisely because it is in this shared life that the rich diversity of every individual can blossom.

This is why Paul is so particular in insisting that what he has to teach about the Eucharist in Corinth is not some peculiar opinion of his own. He is not asking the Corinthian Christians to fail to be the special gift to the whole body of Christ that they are called to be. Indeed, it is Paul himself who reminds us of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts. Even so, Paul knows that to partake of the Eucharist is to partake of that gift of the Lord Jesus' own self, his body and blood, broken and poured out for the life of the world. To share in that reality here and now is to be in communion with what Jesus did on that fateful Thursday night, and in so doing to eat and drink his Passion and Death, and with him rise just as surely as he did on the third day.

To want to do anything else, to want to reconceive, to plan, to organize, to theorize about the Eucharist is to reject the very gift of life it has to offer. There is no freedom, no assertion of my individual graces through a fabricated Lord's Supper of my own devising. It is only in the Eucharist received from the generations of old, who themselves received and passed on what they had received from the Lord — it is only here that we can discover the full flowering of the New Adam in whose life we have been called to share.

No comments: