Ubi caritas et amor...

Jon and I sat on the the screen porch last night, smoking cigars and sipping bourbon after returning home from the Maundy Thursday service at St. Paul Lutheran in Davenport, Iowa. My buddy Matt had preached the sermon at the service. He laid out, in startling simplicity, the core tenets of Christian thought as expressed in the events of the historic last supper, commemorated by the Maundy Thursday celebration.

While some who might see consumption of alcohol and tobacco as sacrilegious, I attest to the benefit of celebrating Maundy Thursday by intentionally not thinking of the supper shared by Jesus and his disciples as the “last” supper, but as the first supper. And enjoying a dusky liquid spirit and the smokey incense of aged tobacco helped me appreciate that first supper in a new light.

Matt’s salient points in the sermon he preached were about the examples Jesus articulates at this meal: Be hospitable, and love one another. Do this while remembering that on the last night of Christ’s life as a human being he chose to isolate these two values, raising them to the central tenets of what it means to be a Christian. (It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these two tenets — hospitality and love — are also core tenets of Islam and Judaism.) The rest of what is often ascribed as core to Christianity by religious zealots and fundamentalists is just a distraction. For me, Christianity is simply about this: be hospitable and love one another. That could mean smoking a cigar and drinking bourbon with your brother on a warm, breezy spring evening — the holiness of life is present there. I love my brother, he showed me exceptional hospitality. It was a sacred moment.

Jesus suggests that we remember this meal — the supper at which he washed the feet of all present, drying those dripping toes and heels with his clothing — and let it be our guide for how to love and serve one another. On his last night as a human he performed no miracles and offered little other advice. I think that’s significant—privileging love and hospitality in this way. This should be our guiding light when it comes to living out the teachings of Christ. We must think of the supper shared by Jesus and his crew on the night before he was crucified as the first supper in the formation of the tradition that Jesus articulated for us. To call it the last supper is to create a backward looking theology. To think of it as the first supper is to see the forward looking nature of Christian ethics. The New covenant is about loving and showing hospitality, not about looking back and finding a reason to be judgmental.

I know a lot of people who find the Christian church abhorrent. Justifiably, they’re confused by how self proclaimed Christians can be so insensitive to the suffering of others. Clearly, this isn’t true of all Christians — any more than it’s true that non-believers are going to hell. There are a lot of churches and churchgoers who are neither hospitable nor loving. I am frequently guilty of this myself — it’s hard to be hospitable at all times, and to love everyone. In the end, though, it works for me to remember the events of Maundy Thursday and keep faith with the core ideals that Jesus espoused.

… Deus ibi est.

Posted 2 April 2010 by Mark ·

  : : :