Maundy Thursday March 24, 2016 Exodus 12: 1-4, 11-14 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
Rev. Catherine Purves
Have you ever taken part in a progressive dinner? It’s kind of like a movable feast. Or, more accurately, the diners all move and the food is served in several different locations. So, you’d have the hors d’oevres house, and everyone would go there first. When the finger food was finished, everyone would proceed to the next stop in the progressive dinner. That might be the salad house or the soup house. Then everyone would go to yet another home for the main course. And finally dessert and coffee would be offered someplace else. In order to enjoy the entire meal, you would have to keep moving. No use getting settled in any one house, because the whole show will be on the road before you know it. I’m not sure how good this is for the digestion, but a progressive dinner certainly keeps you on your toes.
I’d like to argue tonight that the Passover meal and the celebration of Holy Communion which was instituted at a Passover meal, are both like progressive dinners. That is, both are meals that anticipate and even require movement. There’s no use getting too comfortable at those tables, because this show will be on the road before you know it.
The Passover roots of the Last Supper certainly remind us of that. It is obvious that the Passover marked the beginning of something new. God was about to act. And the Hebrews had to get ready for that. This meal signaled the start of a long journey of discovery with God. And they were to eat it as they would a progressive dinner. The people were told, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” They would soon be on the move, and this was food that would fortify them for a dangerous and eventful journey of faith.
They were not to get too settled or comfortable, because God was going to act in new and unexpected ways that would take them across the Red Sea, through a wilderness, and eventually into the Promised Land. But that was still a generation away. And there would be other saving meals along the way as they journeyed in faith: manna from heaven, water from a rock, quails falling from the sky. The Lord would provide, but they had to keep moving.
In a similar way, the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples also marked the beginning of a new journey of faith. Coming as it did at the end of Jesus’ life, it foreshadowed his sacrifice which was fast approaching. Once again, God was about to act in power to save his people, and this meal was to strengthen them for the difficult days ahead, days when they would again be on the move, facing dangers that they could not anticipate. But that shared meal would continue to nourish them as they traveled into the unknown, beyond the cross and the grave and into the wonder of Easter morning. Then, they would discover in that same Lord’s Supper, an ongoing fellowship that they would share with the risen Lord as his church. But this was always meant to be a progressive dinner. They would have to keep moving.
Many of us probably feel that the world is changing far too quickly, and not in a good way. Traditions are easily discarded. Values seem suddenly fluid. If there ever were any ‘good old days’ they are long gone. You have to be a lot younger than we are to relish change like that. Stability, predictability, and, dare I say it, the devil we know is to be preferred over whatever lurks in an unknown future. We’d probably all prefer to settle down, kick off our shoes and enjoy a leisurely, self-indulgent dinner with people we know and trust, rather than having to eat standing up with our loins girded and a staff in our hands, ready to rush out the door. Who wants to risk a progressive dinner if you could choose instead a fixed family feast at home?
In retrospect, the disciples would have surely preferred to linger at the table with Jesus and their friends rather than hurrying off to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would be taken from them, arrested, then tried, and condemned to death. And the Israelites, once they found themselves in the wilderness, wished that they were still slaves in Egypt. It’s understandable that the disciples would have longed to turn back the clock so that they could continue to enjoy their safe and secure fellowship with Jesus. But neither the Israelites nor the disciples could reverse the rapidly changing events that were unfolding now that God was on the move. They would be eating progressive dinners for a long time to come.
It is the same for us. We must adapt to the change which seems to be overtaking us and sweeping us along. I’m not talking about the societal change which is not responsive to the movement or call of God, but that surprising newness that comes to Christ’s church when God decides to move us out of our comfort zone and into a new place of growth and discovery. It feels as if we are in a place like that now. So this is not a time to dig in your heels, refusing to budge, going all conservative and resisting change. You can read about how well that went for the Israelites when they were in the wilderness in the book of Exodus. And where would the church be today if the disciples had locked the doors and refused to let Jesus leave on that Maundy Thursday night?
No, this was always meant to be a progressive dinner. It is food for the journey. And we don’t know where that journey will lead. What we do know is that our Lord and Savior is journeying with us and leading us into the future that he has prepared for us. So, gird up your loins, keep your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and eat hurriedly and eagerly. The adventure is about to begin, for God is again on the move!