Over the years I have come to appreciate Maundy Thursday in our liturgical calendar more than others. One reason I am drawn to it is that we admit our humanness and the great love and leadership that Christ showed that night.
As a college chaplain, weekly worship is a part of our community life. And while most might think we would skip right to Easter and the “good stuff” of Holy Week, we do things a little different. Most of our students go home or travel for Easter, so we do not have a service with all the joy and life that Easter celebrations can bring. Rather, we all gather on the Thursday of Holy Week for a Maundy Thursday service.
This service has become a favorite for our students. Many look forward to this day. While we worship weekly throughout Lent, students most look forward to this service. In part, because we walk through the story of the Last Supper. But it is more than that. We also focus on how we play a role in this story — how we betray Christ in our daily lives.
The service follows the same format each year and offers students the space to realize their role in the larger narrative of faith. We gather in our small chapel space and begin with a moment of prayer. After that, we migrate to our larger chapel, which is cloaked in darkness, to the large table. We gather around the table, the only light in this place is that of the tea candles on the table that light up the faces of those around us. As we read the story, we walk through interactive moments — we pray, we confess, we eat.
The part that draws most students to this service is the prayer of confession. After we read the words of Matthew 26:20-25, we turn our focus onto ourselves. We admit that all it took for Judas to betray Christ was thirty pieces of silver. And, like Judas, we let the power of the empire take control of our lives. Maybe we don’t betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver, but we all have a price.
During this time students are invited to think of that cost. All around the table are pieces of silver (gold pirate coins from a party store). Looking and touching the silver, students write down those things that pull them away from God, those things that cause them to turn their backs from Christ. And then they are encouraged to release those things by placing the coins in a bowl at the center of the table, offering up those burdens.
After this, we move into the meal. We remind one another that all are welcome at the table, that, on the night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he sat and ate a meal with the ones who would betray or abandon him. Students hear the words, “Christ gathered everyone for a meal – the betrayer, the lover, the doubter and the denier, the loyal and the fearful – all. His table that night was for all, so is our table today.”
This service, this meal, is a moment for us to gather, to remember, and to know that even when we mess things up, even when we betray Christ, Christ still welcomes us to the table. It doesn’t matter that we fall short, God’s love is for all and is shown this day in bread and cup. In the darkness of a chapel, with the glow of candlelight on the faces of those I love most, I see the love of God among us, I feel God’s presence in that space. And I know that even during our “Judas moments,” there is goodness and mercy. And that brings me comfort and peace.