Table grace

cup and bread for eucharistOn Maundy Thursday, we recall Jesus’ time in an ‘upper room’, and His command (the Latin for ‘command’ is mandare, from which ‘maundy’ derives) to love one another. Jesus said this after washing His disciples’ feet, which was the first startling event of that final evening together. The second was Jesus’ celebration of Passover with His friends, because instead of going through the ritual as it stood, Jesus added commentary, and personalized the remarks. This is My body, He said; this is My blood.

Ironically, the Church has argued loud and long over the precise meaning of His words, but beyond dispute is that on this night, at that table, grace was front and center. All subsequent celebrations of communion (or ‘the eucharist’, or ‘the Lord’s supper’) reckon with this; they vividly present us with God’s goodness and mercy.

A while back, I spent some extended time reflecting on this meal, and in particular how it exhibits and then calls for grace; those reflections were written into a book, part of which is below.

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If there is anything that marks us off as being different from God, it is the display of grace. We can occasionally muster kindness, at times exhibit peace. But the consistent, resplendent outpouring of grace is past our natural ability; it’s like asking a tadpole to tap dance. And yet: God thinks we can, and should. He comes close enough to shower us with grace to the point that we start reeking of it; He tears into our chests and slathers grace all over our hearts. Then He says: you do this, too. You who have been saved by grace and who in your days under His Lordship have been shaped by it as well, you are also to show grace.

To show grace, you need to practice faithfulness and loyalty, to put yourself out not once or twice but times without counting. This happens in small ways and large, in fits and starts. You drive and spend and listen and help until you are out of breath, until your fingers bleed, until you are broken and torn apart. This sounds implausible, impossible, almost, but there is no easy way to say it, because grace is good, not simple. So you watch dear ones make bad choices and pick them up afterwards; you take on the chin a purposeful blow and do not let it knock you for a loop. You amass a fortune and spend it prodigally. You whisper I forgive you, and mean it.

To show grace, you need to be near grace. You have a lousy, selective, self-serving memory, too, so you will need to stay close–for more than a few minutes, or hours, or months. You will need to stare until your eyes water, you will need to set to song what you note of grace and sing until you are hoarse. You will need to eat and drink your fill of grace and then come back for more, and you will do this over and over and over again because the showing of grace will deplete you, and your only source of strength—not one of several, not a pretty good place to go, not a fine idea when you have the time, but your only source of strength—will be the One who poured Himself out for you, who allowed His body to be pulled apart so that you could take hold.

You know from experience that self is the enemy of grace, that self blinds you to God, and closes your ears to truth. So when healing grace comes, you must open your eyes and look, hard; you must listen for a voice calling loud and clear: Come and get it! It’s a command, an invitation, a promise, a relief. You will stagger to His table some days, with barely enough strength to see what’s there. On others, you will float in, elated by what just happened to or through you. On many, you will simply come, vowing to fight off the threat of boredom, struggling probably, sinking maybe, but determined to win this round. You will come, because you know you need grace.[1]

And then, one day soon, you will die.

And then you will be immersed, saturated, resplendent and full of new hunger. You will raise your head and with eyes wide and shining see before you what you never deserved but what mercy brought to pass: a table loaded with the fruit of the field and vine, waiting. You will be swept along by a current of effusive praise to the mercy-giver, and glory will race around you like river rapids. In this place where you see the Lord over all, you will finally feel at home, safe and alive. You will hear your name and embrace your kin and know that grace is calling each and all of you, still.


[1] “Since we are Christians let’s beg the assistance of the Lord our God against the attractions of a life that is stupid to love. Instead, let’s fall in love with the beauty of the life that no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, nor has it reached the human heart: for God has prepared this for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). And God Himself is that life. I can hear you applauding. I can hear you sighing. We should be deeply in love with this life.” Augustine, Sermon 302.

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