Maundy Thursday Homily
If you haven't noticed by now from the scriptures woven into tonight’s service (see bulletin for details), the Bible is filled with food. Adam and Eve are set in a garden filled with plants to eat from but are told to avoid one particular fruit. God tells Moses he will lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The kings of Israel throw royal banquets to honor friends or entrap enemies. Prophets perform miracles to feed the hungry or use food to symbolically show what God decrees. Jesus is no different: it’s no surprise his first miracle was summoning catering for a wedding party. Christians today often think of spirituality as something totally alien to our lives... but the Bible is an incredibly earthy book that speaks of resurrected earthly life. For it tells the story of God, yes, but of God dealing with us ordinary people in the midst of our earthly lives. And we mortals? We gotta eat to live.
Don't take this as an endorsement of gluttony or drunkenness, however. Love is a gift from heaven but corrupted can turn into lust. Rest is essential to health, but lazy sloth is a vice. Rest and love are still good things: it’s only the corruption we despise. So too with nourishment. Just as with love or sleep, God built our bodies to require food and drink. Abuse them, turn them into idolatrous priorities? That’s sin. Treat food and drink as part of being a creation of the Most High? As something required for life but not the reason for living? Viewed properly, this need to eat instead drives us into the arms of God by reminding us that we are mere creatures who must continuously ask our Creator, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It's a reminder that no mortal can live on their own, because in our design the Lord put a requirement for us to interact with the rest of creation for our nourishment. Meals are opportunities to appreciate the creation God gives us: glimpses of color, the smell and taste of spices, sensations of heat or chill. God didn't have to make all these, food could have just been tasteless gruel... but God chose to give us flavor, color, and joy in meals. In all these ways, meals remind us of our Creator who made the world this way.
But second, meals are a time of fellowship. In ancient times, to eat with another was a sign of friendship and hospitality. Sitting next to another to eat is an act of vulnerability exposing you to betrayal or shame. To dine with another showed to world: I trust this person. And in the Biblical era, when there was no Tom Bodett at the Motel 6 to leave the light on, welcoming traveling strangers into your home for shelter and food was a moral obligation, a sign of shared humanity and community identity beyond the walls of your village. Whether with a friend or with strangers, there's an intimacy when you eat with others. It's why you don't order spare ribs until your third date. It's why Paul and James in the Bible both talk about rich Christians sharing food with poor ones at the communal meals that were the first Christian worship services. It's why the New Testament talks about overturning dietary laws so that Jewish and Gentile converts alike can eat side by side, regardless of culture or race. Such meals become a sign to the world we’re all equal sisters and brothers under God. The ancient church used meals to cement the bonds of fellowship, as we still do to this day at every PW funeral luncheon or deacons potluck.
The scriptures you've heard tonight are rich in Christian doctrine, with too much for me to cover in full. But notice what I've said so far: meals remind us we are created beings... and are signs of friendship and trust. And then reflect on the scriptures you've heard tonight about Jesus eating with his disciples, with outcasts and sinners, with rebels and foreigners. If Jesus is God incarnate... then the Bible is saying God in Jesus really did take on creaturely form: he's not playing pretend but really has adopted a body that needs food to survive. And in those Jesus meals, the Bible shows God choosing to have friendship with women like Mary and Martha, with rouges like Zacchaeus the tax collector, with the sick and outcast, with you and me. God came to us most fully—not in swirling fire or booming roar—but in a humble human form that needed food, drink, rest, and all the rest... Jesus the God-made-flesh would suffer and ultimately die on a cross on a hill the day after the meal we commemorate this evening. And so we could better understand the sacrifice of that cross and what it would mean for our souls, Jesus used the metaphor of food: “Just as this bread and wine nourish your bodies, my broken body and shed blood will restore your souls. Just as bread and wine are signs of trust, so too will my sacrifice restore your relationship with God. Just as God's promises to his people were sealed long ago in the sharing of feasts, so too shall this feast be forever remembered and celebrated as a seal of the promise I fulfill on the cross tomorrow.” At Christmas time, we hear from angels that Jesus bears a title that means “God is with us,” and on this Maundy Thursday—in Christ's humble washing of feet, in sharing a meal with friends, in his final lessons, in the cross that awaits him tomorrow—we see how true that is. In Jesus Christ, God is indeed with us: in our creaturely hunger, in our sufferings, in our death, and in our resurrection. In all these things, through Jesus Christ, God is with us. Amen.