Jesus says: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
It's a funny and good thing that I am here preaching on Maundy Thursday, because for months and months now I have been really interrogating this idea that I can't seem to let go of that the Last Supper was simply put: a dinner party.
Of course I don't want to understate the significance of what we're celebrating here, but it would be worth our time to consider that the inaugurating event of our practice of Holy Communion was a dinner with his friends; the symbol for our connectedness to all other Christians in the Body of Christ was a dinner with his friends, the choice that Jesus made for how to spend his last night before death was a dinner with his friends.
Trying to wrap my brain around all these pieces -- the Eucharist and Maundy Thursday and this dinner and the foot washing and Judas' betrayal and the night spent in Gethsemane -- has landed me in this place of feeling like maybe we have missed the forest for the trees; maybe, what if, could it be that the sacrament of Christian life is besides bread and wine and water,,,,, friendship?
What if the primary expression of Christian life is deep, visible, reckless, public friendship? What if the kind of friendship that we are called to cultivate and to commit to as people of faith is to the kind of friendship that leads us to the table of the last supper, that carries us through the night in Gethsemane, that leads us to and gathers us around the Cross tomorrow?
Again, I don't want to undersell this point -- this is not an ordinary kind of friendship. This is a friendship that is not based on shared affinity or careful affection. This is not the kind of friendship that excludes or that is carved into a small inner circle. This is a friendship that is offered freely, that is invited eagerly, that is given away at no cost, that is sent out to multiply. Jesus has this inner circle of twelve but remember that Jesus gathered these twelve on a whim, called them off their fishing boats to him and then sent them out to draw the circle bigger and bigger. And on this night, Maundy Thursday, in the shadow of tomorrow's Cross, we remember that this kind of friendship is brave enough, bold enough, trusting enough to risk abandonment or even betrayal.
This kind of wide-open, freely-given friendship is scary because it is uncommon. Look out into the world and think about who it is that we deem worthy of our affections, or deserving of our care. Our impulses to give and receive friendship and love and care are so warped and narrowed by politics and economics and social convention. We have this great big category of people called strangers who we have decided that we owe nothing to, and it is a categorization that keeps us safe but it also keeps us isolated, it keeps us lonely, it keeps us suspicious of one another, and it blocks the flow of care. Jesus' ministry among us was to challenge us into believing that in the Body of Christ, there are no strangers, there is no one undeserving of our care, there is no one who has to earn our friendship because we are called to give it away freely.
Here's the kicker: imagine what kind of a world that would be if Christians could loosen their cleaving to this friends vs strangers vs enemies paradigm -- it is a tall order placed on each of your shoulders to give away friendship and love and care to everyone you meet, but imagine how much more connected and safe and whole the world would feel if that same benefit of the doubt was give away freely to you too? In the shadow of the cross, we get to wonder what was so threatening about Jesus' message that kings and emperors and judges alike wanted him killed for his message? For whom is this state of disconnection and suspicion a source of profit and power? And who's expense does it come at? For whom is the idea of friendship and love and care freely given and openly received cause to build a cross?
This Maundy Thursday, I hope you'll sit with what it means that the invitation to this table is the invitation to a dinner party that everyone is invited to, and that to break bread together with friends and strangers alike is to leave the party without a stranger left among you.