The Exciting Meal – Maundy Thursday of Holy Week

He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer [Luke 22:15]

The word for “desire” means “to set the heart upon, to deeply long for” and when it is doubled like here, it indicates that a strong intensity is felt.  Looking at the way that Holy Communion is generally practiced, the idea of a strongly felt emotion is most uncharacteristic.  But even more surprising is that it is felt this deeply from Jesus’ side of this Sacrament.

Many people often commune as part of the ritual of worship.  This does not mean that it is not important to them.  It does not mean that they are mindless about it.  It is just that, well, it is usually pretty emotionless for them.  Sometimes they return from the Lord’s Table with such a deadpan expression that one might guess it was a pretty dull affair.  Truly, to see a truly excited person might get people wondering about him.

That’s why it is of such contrast to find Jesus speaking of a deeply felt earnest desire, which normally is accompanied with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm because the long awaited event is finally happening.  Humans can be expected to be an excitable bunch, and one might suppose that Jesus might have some sort of enthusiasm, but it can be a bit awkward to think that God could have this kind of an emotional side to Him.  After all, His plan of salvation was formulated before the world was created, and the progress toward that goal has plodded on year after year, century after century, for thousands of years – and it is not as if He will be surprised or taken off balance by any turn of events – so what is there for Him to excited about?

If we think about it, well, I suppose He could have some enthusiasm, but certainly He would be far more dignified than to be jumping around for joy.  Yet the intensity of the above passage betrays an attitude that is more than a sterile “oh, joy … ” from God.

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We get into all sorts of theological debates (no wonder we may think of the Sacrament as dull) over whether the “this is” is symbolic or is it real that we still miss the import of what is going on.  Jesus is saying, “I am giving Myself to you!”  The premise of my book Celebration!  Holy Communion: A Love Story contemplates how this Sacrament is regarded as a foretaste of the great Marriage Feast of heaven, and if so, how would the Lord’s Supper look if seen from the perspective of two newlyweds, accompanied by all the excitement, delight, joy, and the rest that would mark such an occasion.

It would mean that if indeed there is such a connection to the heavenly Marriage Feast, no wonder Jesus, as the Bridegroom, would be on the edge of His seat in regard to what is happening at this Table.  It is to be the moment of extreme intimacy with His Beloved; it will be the moment of giving of Himself that has no equal in any other action.  This is where Jesus, rather than dealing with “the sins of the whole world,” instead becomes specifically personal with each one of us – He touches our lips, our hearts, our minds with His own Body and Blood.  This is the Bride that He would literally die for – and does.  And He is not merely dispensing forgiveness, this is a full involvement of Himself with the Bride whom He saw before the world was created, the Bride whom He lifts from the gutter of sin, whom He washes and makes her clean without spot or shadow, and with whom He will become one for all eternity – way beyond “till death do us part.”

We need to see this enthusiasm of Jesus in order for us to capture the undercurrent of joy and delight that flows deeply in such a simple act of the Bridegroom not feeding His Bride with cake, but with the very essence of His being, His Body and Blood, to the point where St Peter can make an amazing statement: “by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…” [II,1:4].

If only we realized just what we hold when we receive the Bread and the Cup of Blessing, we just might find ourselves just a bit more joyful about our Sacramental experience, and perhaps begin to understand just why Jesus  would say, “With fervent desire I have desired,” when it came to giving to us this precious Communion with Him.

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