[#pictureLent] Maundy Thursday: Together at the Table

By Ken Carter
Resident Bishop, Florida Area, United Methodist Church

First, read Luke 22:7-20

We are created for community, and we have a fundamental need and desire for relationships. And yet, if we live long enough we will inevitably be harmed by other people, or the people we love will be damaged. If we are honest, through the evil we have done, or the good we have left undone, we will also damage and harm other people.

These two realities exist in tension with each other: our need for community, and the behaviors that lead us away from relationships with each other. The Quaker contemplative and social activist Parker Palmer offers a compelling insight. It is one prompted by the question of how Jesus could stay at the table with Judas and the other disciples, in the awareness of their betrayal of him:

“Community is not so much a demonstration of heaven as it is a via negativa to God. We will always be disillusioned by community. But in the spiritual life disillusionment is a good thing: it means losing out illusions about ourselves and each other. As those illusions fall away we will be able to see reality and truth more clearly. And the truth is that we can rely on God to make community among us even - and especially - when our own efforts fail ... And here is the paradox: as we become disillusioned with community and more dependent on God, we become more available for true community with each other ... Seeing ourselves and each other clearly, yet seeing God’s continual healing presence among us, we can begin to experience the fruits of the Spirit with each other: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness.”

(From his unpublished essay, "On Staying At The Table”)

Jesus’ command of the disciples (and us!) to love one another is given not in an environment of naivete and innocence. His is a radical call to integrate our human nature - in this instance, betrayal - and our human destiny: to build the beloved community of sinners, present at the table only through the grace of the One who created us, who knows us completely, and yet who loves us, and believes, against all odds, that we might love one another.

In our pursuit of mercy and justice, compassion and righteousness, may we stay at the table with each other. May those who welcome LGBTQ persons, march for the unborn, campaign for the trafficked, keep vigil for the condemned, stand with the farm workers, and provide sanctuary for the abused feast together in the presence of the Lord. And may we know it to be a table of sacrifice and love: Jesus, crucified and risen, is with us on this evening.

Prayer: In the breaking of bread, in the pouring of the cup, and in the offering of our lives on behalf of others, may we live in communion with you, Loving Jesus, and each other. Amen.

Discussion Questions

  1. With whom do you find it most difficult to stay in relationship?
  2. Who are the persons excluded from our tables and why?
  3. Can you reflect on an experience of deep disillusionment? And can you have a conversation with Jesus about it?