Maundy Thursday: Thomas’s Testimony (Luke 22:15)

by J. Barrie Shepherd

Mr. Shepherd is pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

This article appeared in the Christian Century, April 8, 1987, p. 327. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


SUMMARY

A narrative of a Lenten meditation in poetic form written from the standpoint of the apostle Thomas: And if it were not for his love, his grace that sought me out behind locked doors, called me to touch and then believe, I would not be here at your humble table ready now with you, to break the bread and pour the wine as he did years ago.


"How I have longed to eat this Passover with you before my death" [Luke 22:15].

Yes, they always said I questioned everything –

too much for my own good, was the way they used to put it.

Although, since that evening in the Upper Room

when he offered me his hands and side, the nail prints,

spear wound to touch and know, I’ve never doubted him again.

And yet, I still have questions.

For instance, what he meant when he told us

how he’d wished to eat that supper with us just

before he died. "How I have longed . . ." he said;

as if that was a moment he had lived for all his days.

"How I have longed to eat this pesach with you all

before I die." It gave us quite a shock, I can tell you,

him talking again like that about his death.

But it was the longing that puzzled me at the time –

still catches, tugs the tangled cords of memory

after all these many years. "How I have longed. . ."

What could the Lord have meant by that

expression of deep yearning?

Might it have been because he knew the goal

was now within his reach, that after three hard years

of testing, trial, stress and many disappointments,

giving, always giving, pouring out his mind, his heart,

his very soul, spilling forth so readily the vibrant life

that was within him in acts of healing, feeding, loving,

might it have been with some relief he caught sight

of the end of his long journey, glimpsed the goal which,

fearful though it was to us, to him would mean fulfillment

of his task, the long-expected climax and conclusion

of his pilgrimage? Was that, perhaps, why Jesus said

he longed to share the feast with us, because

it meant that all was nearly over?

Another thought. Could he have seen this supper

as a fond farewell; one final feast with all of us before

he faced the end alone? We certainly had shared enough,

had plenty to remember and be thankful for that night.

So much had happened since he called us from the boats,

the sheds and shops, the hillsides of sweet Galilee,

so many miles of journeying, so many mouths fed,

miseries relieved. Everywhere we went, especially at first,

there were crowds, crowds wanting something, food,

freedom, a future maybe, something they could hope for,

live for, shape their battered lives around

and start to dream again. Mostly they came, I think,

because, he loved them and could tell them so, yes,

even those vast, milling throngs; there was a touch,

a sense, a spirit moving in, across, among those mobs

of eager people, told them here at last they had a man

who was concerned not for himself, who was not out to get

himself elected, but who cared for every single one of them,

and tottering old dames, lepers, whores, soldiers,

robbers; I’ve seen them all transformed by seeing him.

So anyway, perhaps it was the thought of all we’d shared,

the memories, relationships we had built up, he wanted,

then, to celebrate, to gather all together in one last

and glorious evening of true fellowship before he said

"Farewell" to us, the twelve who had walked with him all the way.

And yet I think that there was even more

than this within that longing. He said it

with such passion, I have never, even yet, been able

to forget those words and just the way they sounded.

"How I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I die."

Could it have been that he too was unsure,

that although he knew the basic fundamental fact

that he must die, he did not understand precisely how

and why this had to be fulfilled? It seemed to me as if,

in all he did that evening at the table, he too was finding

meaning and enlightenment, as if, in breaking bread

and pouring wine, our Lord himself was being led –

as we were through him -- into a new and richer comprehension,

into a full and final revelation that this, of course,

was why it must be so -- that only as a grain of wheat falls

to the ground and dies can it arise again and bring forth

ripe new grain to form the loaf that feeds a hungry world.

Yes, I believe it dawned on him -- as he was dong it –

that bread, in being broken, is available, and being shared

becomes a part of many bodies, many lives; multiplies

itself in twelve or twenty, twenty thousand ways and soon

is irresistible, a mighty and united host of servants

for the kingdom. And with the cup,

so clear a symbol of his blood in that red wine,

he saw, as we did, that his life, poured forth, would seal

a new commitment, would form upon the altar of God’s grace

a whole new covenant that would replace the ancient,

worn-out slaughter of the animals with one complete

and final act, the sacrifice of God’s own son

to show the world, to show us all the height

and depth and majesty, the eternal glory of God’s love,

which gives itself forever, or until we come,

at last, and offer up our own lives in return.

So, as the meal progressed, we saw the Father

and the Son converse together in his actions and his words.

We watched the faith take shape, the kingdom-yet-to-be

assume its royal form, its sacramental lineaments.

We all were witnesses at the birth of a new era, new creation.

What followed afterwards, of course is history.

It shattered me -- the whole thing was too much.

And at the cross I had completely lost already all

I had seen and heard and tasted in the Upper Room

the night before. I lost it all.

And if it were not for his love, his grace

that sought me out behind locked doors, called me

to touch and then believe, I would not be here

at your humble table ready now with you, to break

the bread and pour the wine as he did years ago.

Yet I am here; here to tell you what I know,

what I remember of that night and even more,

what I believe will happen here and now as you and I

take bread and wine together in his name.

For it is with great longing that I too have longed

to eat this Passover with you.

Now in his name, and in his risen presence,

let the feast begin. Amen.