Lent has been my favorite liturgical season for decades, and became more and more tangible as a pediatric chaplain. I love imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday as our collective dust gathers to be reminded we are finite, and we belong to God, as we intentionally go to the wilderness for a season.
Maundy Thursday is a beautifully vulnerable service to lead because of the humility and humanity of it. The foot washing. The sacrifice. The betrayal. The ritual. The love. The redemption. The grief. The nourishment. The grace.
Yet five years ago Maundy Thursday changed for me. I was part of a clergy couple, and our marriage was dying during Holy Week and Easter. My former spouse had affairs, so the sting of betrayal was palpable. I didn’t want to take communion from him at the service because it felt like being served by Judas himself. (I don’t think I’m Jesus, nor is adultery anything remotely close to what Judas did. I’m recalling how it felt at the time as a spouse, not making a theological statement.)
Maundy Thursday betrayal and brokenness was too much. Good Friday agony was too close. Holy Saturday darkness was too real. Easter indeed felt like “an idle tale.” I didn’t yet know how broken our marriage was, but I had a gut feeling it wasn’t going to be resurrected. The last thing I wanted to do was go to church and pretend I was excited about anything. Yet, as the Head of Staff’s clergy spouse, I felt I had to. So I went, and used my best preacher’s kid skills to fake it. I missed my mom. I missed the person I married. I missed what life used to be. I needed the empty tomb to bring my mom back to life and repair my marriage.
But that’s not what happened. Nor is that the point. The tomb is empty precisely because of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Just as the road to the manger has always been for the weary, the empty tomb has always been for the betrayed, broken, betrayers, and grieving. Resurrection hope has always been more than we deserve and everything we need.
As I served communion this Holy Week, I said: this table is for the betrayer and the betrayed. It’s Jesus’ body broken for us because we are broken. It’s the Cup of the New Covenant, sealed in Christ’s blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s the table where everyone has a seat. It’s the meal Jesus hosts for all. It’s where we are given the commandment to “love one another.”
For Maundy Thursday is humility and humanity at its most raw. The betrayer and the betrayed have always, and will always, have a seat at the table. Both have a standing invitation because grace. But they don’t have to sit beside each other because boundaries.
Brokenness and betrayal take many forms and leave many scars. Some are visible; some are not. Any given Thursday night we are in need of abundant second chances. So we return to the table. To be nourished. To be forgiven. To grieve. To forgive. To pause. To be reminded to love. To remember the meal is for the broken, the lost, the doubting, the hungry, the hurting, the clean, and the unclean. It’s for all of us.
And every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the saving life, death, and resurrection of Christ until he returns. The hope for the betrayer in need of redemption, and the betrayed who wants desperately to forgive, is Jesus will return. And the stones that bind us to brokenness and pain will be rolled away. We will not wear the tomb clothes of shame or pain forever.
Love one another.