Holy Thursday Is for Real

I am still wresting with interpreting the Bible as myth and poetry; however, I am finding deeper meaning in understanding that all peoples have “made up” stories to understand deeper realities.
The story of the Exodus is one story in point. There is scant archaeological evidence that a group of thousands of Hapiru suddenly exited from Egypt after a recalcitrant pharaoh refused to grant them freedom in spite of horrible plaques delivered on the people.
At this point I want to say, “So what?” Focusing on historicity distracts us from the deeper meaning. The Exodus story is about monotheism and Yahweh, a God who delivers the people from slavery to many false gods. It is a story probably about the gradual development of monotheism among a group of people originally known as the Hapiru—a counter-cultural Middle Eastern people who over time found a better way to live and become more than they had been. Hence the stories about the Ten Commandments, the unbelief among the people, the endless wandering in the desert. In spite of the backsliding of the people, Yahweh is a faithful God who can and will deliver them from all oppression and slavery. Walter Bruggemann tells us that the commandments of Yahweh represent a much better way of life, a covenant if you will, than the oppressive rule in Pharaoh s production-consumption empire. Enter a heavy emphasis on a basic requirement of Judaism—keeping the sabbath. We must remember when these stories were written.  It looks like they may have been written after Judah’s attempt at Davidic-Solomonic production-economy  empire had failed miserably. God is the God of Sabbath and Sabbath rest from production and consumption. We tried our darnedest to be like other superpowers around us and ended up in captivity in Babylon.
Bruggemann also states that the God of the exodus is a God with whom and for whom all things are possible. Yahweh is forever faithful to the promise to Abraham. This is all for real, not in the sense of historical facticity, but rather in terms of the meaning of life with a loving, ever-faithful God. The Jewish people over time developed an expansive Passover ritual meal to remind them of Yahweh’s faithfulness.
Fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth. The earliest account of Jesus’ activity on the night before his crucifixion comes from Paul:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11)
At this point, we need to remind ourselves that what came to be known as the New Testament is the result of distinct faith communities looking back at the scriptures in order to make sense out of Jesus and who he was. The synoptic Gospels came to situating the death of Jesus around Passover. Jesus is the Pascal Lamb whose blood is poured out once and for all to end Temple sacrifice. It is now no longer needed; humankind has entered into a new level of relationship with the Living One—Abba God.
John’s Gospel is, of course, different. Chapter 6 is a lengthy exposition on the Living Bread come down from heaven. It is a poetic description of what comes about when eat this bread and drink this cup. Unfortunately, we take the account literally and destroy its ultimate significance. The Johannine community in the last discourses of Jesus chose to focus on something other than bread and wine—the washing of the feet, a true example of the servant leadership Jesus came to teach. How different from the power leadership in the Roman production-consumption empire. How unfortunate that the patriarchal church did not also make foot-washing a sacrament. Listen to Jesus, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” Jesus is glorified and God is glorified in the act of washing grimy, smelly, and dust-laden human feet? Now we are speaking the language of love and service, not power and domination.
Jesus, like Moses and the prophets, came to set us free. Jesus came that we might have life and have it in abundance. When we eat this bread and drink this cup this Holy Thursday, it is really real. By re-membering what Jesus did, we join in the banquet; we come into com-union with the Risen Christ and one another. We, like the Jews of old, are delivered from slavish devotion to the rules, routines, and comforts of empire. The rules of engagement in the Kin-dom are drastically different—love one another, forgive give your enmities, forgive those who persecute you, and wash one another’s feet. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Care for the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Welcome the strangers in your midst. And created a jubilee year of wealth re-distribution.
What a wonderful challenge—a call to be more than we are at this moment. We are set free to live in love and serve one another. We are nourished, nurtured, and empowered to become what we are—sons and daughters created in the very image of the Living God. Like the Velveteen Rabbit we are loved into becoming really real.

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