I'm busy creating three different services for Easter weekend, and would like to share, perhaps, my very favorite Christian writer and his thoughts on the The Last Supper on this Maundy Thursday.
Frederick Buechner is a beloved Christian writer who manages to cross the theological divide, for the most part. He's a theologian and pastor too - and someone if I'd known years ago, would've moved mountains to work with him. His writing endlessly inspires me. His thoughtfulness and poignant, yet down-to-earth relationship with words accesses a raw depth few Christian writers touch. I don't know much about his life, but feel his struggles nonetheless. His words are connected to what makes us break. His reverence and humility make his words relateable, while his wisdom challenges us. There's a tender honesty that spills out reminding me I don't have to be lofty like a theologian or Super-Religious-Pastor-Wife in my new life.
I only have to be real.
As luck would have it, I couldn't pull off lofty theologian if my life depended on it. Give me a 12-step room and a bunch of foul mouthed, recovering drunks reciting the Serenity Prayer hand in hand, and I'll give you movement of the Holy Spirit from floor to ceiling. That's church to me as much as the sanctity present when serving communion to our congregation.
Enjoy his post below, and if you're inclined, check out his many inspiring books too. You can find all of them here! But if you want to meet him, get in line. That's how lineage works :)
But do yourself a favor and read one of his books. It's safe to say it won't be the last one you read.
Here are Frederick Buechner's simple and beautiful thoughts on The Last Supper and Holy Communion:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
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.
The article below was originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words:
The Lord's Supper is make-believe. You make believe that the one who breaks the bread and blesses the wine is not the plump parson who smells of Williams' Aqua Velva but Jesus of Nazareth. You make believe that the tasteless wafer and cheap port are his flesh and blood. You make believe that by swallowing them you are swallowing his life into your life and that there is nothing in earth or heaven more important for you to do than this.
It is a game you play because he said to play it.
"Do this in remembrance of me." Do this.
Play that it makes a difference. Play that it makes sense. If it seems a childish thing to do, do it in remembrance that you are a child.
Remember Max Beerbohm's Happy Hypocrite, in which a wicked man wore the mask of a saint to woo and win the saintly girl he loved. Years later, when a castoff girlfriend discovered the ruse, she challenged him to take off the mask in front of his beloved and show his face for the sorry thing it was. He did what he was told, only to discover that underneath the saint's mask, his face had become the face of a saint.
This same reenactment of the Last Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist, from a Greek word meaning "thanksgiving," that is, at the Last Supper itself Christ gave thanks, and on their part Christians have nothing for which to be more thankful.
It is also called the Mass, from missa, the word of dismissal used at the end of the Latin service. It is the end. It is over. All those long prayers and aching knees. Now back into the fresh air. Back home. Sunday dinner. Now life can begin again. Exactly.
It is also called Holy Communion because, when feeding at this implausible table, Christians believe that they are communing with the Holy One himself, his spirit enlivening their spirits, heating the blood, and gladdening the heart just the way wine, as spirits, can.
They are also, of course, communing with each other. To eat any meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic need. It is hard to preserve your dignity with butter on your chin, or to keep your distance when asking for the tomato ketchup.
To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that's still left over, well, we're in it together, or it in us. Maybe it's most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters.
The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, "Christ died for thee." That girl. That slob. That phony. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. Christ died for thee. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee.
1542; Oil on canvas; Galleria Borghese, Rome
Jacopo Bassano's Last Supper is one of the masterpieces of 16th-century Italian painting. Instead of the elegant grouping of figures in Leonardo's painting, which inspired it, this dramatic scene features barefoot fishermen at the crucial moment when Christ asks who will betray him, and the light passing through a glass of wine stains the clean tablecloth red. Recent restoration has only now revealed the extraordinary original colours, which had been heavily painted over in the 19th century, when the emerald green and iridescent pinks and oranges were not in fashion.