(The last of seven weekly Lenten reflections.) It’s Holy Week on the Christian liturgical calendar. Good Friday and Easter are near; Lent is drawing to a close. I’ve honored my fasting commitments (see the earlier post, “Why I observe Lent”), and intend to make more permanent changes to my eating habits because of it. But one thing is clear–it’s way too easy to fall headlong into gluttony when the proper occasion arises.
In accordance with tradition, I don’t fast on the Sabbath. This past Sunday provided ample opportunity to throw fasting to the wind. In the morning, our Sunday School class held its yearly anniversary breakfast, celebrating 16 years together. As you might imagine, at a potluck affair like this, there were lots and lots of ways to indulge an appetite for sugar and white flour, the things I had sworn off for weeks. I didn’t go overboard; I allowed myself one piece of cinnamon bread. Cinnamon’s good for you, right?
But then we brought back leftovers of a delicious blueberry coffee cake my sister had made. When we got home from church, I was planning to eat a good healthy serving of vegetables that had been left from the night before. Unfortunately, my wife informed me that she already had plans for the veggies, so I turned to the coffee cake. One piece led to a second, and others throughout the day.
In the evening, the family decided to have a special dinner, since we couldn’t all be together for my birthday the following weekend. What did Dad want to eat? What does Dad like that he almost never gets? For me, the answer is easy: fried chicken (I’m a cheap date). That led to the next idea: chicken and waffles. I was so full after dinner that I plopped down on the couch and figured I might have to stay there for the rest of the evening.
But most significantly, Sunday was also the day for another kind of meal: it was the weekend of communion. Frankly, of the three special meals that day, the Lord’s Supper was the one that got the least of my attention–which is sadly ironic at the outset of Holy Week.
When I think of the Last Supper, an image often comes to mind–Da Vinci’s famous painting of the same name, depicting the scene from John 13:21, when Jesus declares that one of the disciples will betray him. I would love to see it in person some day. It’s actually a mural, 15 feet high and twice as long, gracing one wall of the dining hall in a Dominican convent in Milan. Much loving effort has gone into restoring and preserving the decaying masterpiece. Part of it was lost to what seems like an almost criminal lack of foresight: when a doorway was punched through the wall where the mural had been painted, Jesus’ feet were lost forever.
Da Vinci brilliantly captures the reactions of the disciples and freezes them in time: some recoil in horror; some argue amongst themselves; Judas, distracted, reaches for the same dish as Jesus. I try to imagine the mural–to scale (15 feet!)–and wonder what it would be like to take a meal in a room so adorned.
I think I know. At first, we might be fully conscious of the painting and its meaning, and feel compelled to eat in silent and sheepish reverence. Over time, though, we’d habituate. We’d take the mural for granted, hardly noticing it, if at all. There would be days in which we would come into the dining hall laden with guilt, and be uncomfortably reminded of Jesus’ announcement: “One of you will betray me.” But most days, we’d munch away, oblivious.
I don’t want to be oblivious. Not when taking a regular meal, and certainly not when participating in the Lord’s Supper.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus tells his disciples (Luke 22:19). In Luke’s account, Jesus declares that he is going to be betrayed, and the disciples argue about which one of them is the culprit. And suddenly, the argument takes a familiar turn: which one of them is the greatest (Luke 22:24)? How easy it is to forget, to lose our way, even when sitting at table with the Lord himself.
During Lent, we live in ways that foreshadow Easter. But how easy it is to cast the anticipation of resurrection aside in favor of our familiar gluttonous habits. When we take communion, we are charged to remember the Last Supper. But that too is soon forgotten, if we even remember our betrayal and God’s saving grace in the first place.
We need to be a people of long and active memories, not of how we have been betrayed, but of how we ourselves have been the betrayer, the ones who ran away on the night Jesus was arrested. We are the ones who fell asleep in the garden. But we are also the ones who have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are the ones who have been given resurrection life now, in anticipation of our future resurrection to eternity. This is a week to remember who we are, and to look forward to who we will yet be.
May every week be such a week.