It took me over a year to read Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. Non-fiction books are like that for me. Most of my most favorite, mind and heart-altering books I have only read through about three quarters. If there’s not a beautiful romance to tie together with a kiss on the last page then the book is just over and that’s sad. I invested time and energy and emotions into this book and some stranger is going to tell me when it’s over just because he or she is the author?! Uh, no, I don’t think so. Instead, I can read three-quarters of it, get the gist, and never have the sadness of it being over because, well, it’s not. It’s on the shelf, ready to be finished or not whenever I feel like it. Take that, establishment. (Or more accurately, take that sweet lion-hearted author who has poured sweat and tears into sharing his thoughts and prayers in written form just for some nobody girl to get weird about it.)
Bread & Wine, however, I powered through. I would read a chapter here, a chapter there. If I read too much at once my heart would literally implode because of the FREAKING EMOTIONAL ROLLAR COASTER Shauna likes to put her readers through. I have never cried more or laughed louder in public places than when reading a Shauna Niequist book…and within the same chapter. I swear. I look like a crazy person.
I’m so glad I powered through Bread & Wine though, because the timing was perfect. I finished the last chapter on communion on Maundy Thursday.
Worlds collide. Hearts explode. I actually did not cry, so pat on the back for that one.
Obviously, last meals are on the mind.
I love Maundy Thursday. It’s the beginning of a really rough weekend for Jesus, but the upcoming gruesomeness of Friday doesn’t seem quite real yet when Jesus and his closest buds are just lounging around a meal.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus seems more human to me than anywhere else in the Gospels. And while I very much appreciate Jesus being fully God (salvation is very cool- I’m super into it) I really, really like Jesus being fully man. The man part makes sense to me. (CLARIFICATION: men do not make sense to me. Being a human, however, is something I can relate to.) Eating that last meal with his closest friends; begging, begging, begging God to take away a hard thing; wanting God to just please for once make sense; feeling disappointed in a friend – those are things on much smaller, less extreme scales, that I can relate to.
I spent a Thursday a couple years ago packing up my apartment in Austin, TX before heading off to a new chapter in Knoxville, TN. The very last thing I did in Austin was have a meal. Part of me wanted to have my last meal downtown at some trendy, quintessential “Austin” restaurant that I’d “always wanted to try.” However, we were on a time crunch, so we went to get the same tacos we’d had a million times overlooking the same road I’d driven down a million times.
Some of my closest friends gathered around queso, surrounded by suburbia, and chatted and laughed and ignored the fact that I was not going to be able to get tacos like this for at least half a year. Tables (and tacos, of course) bring people together. Conversations and margaritas flow and you can talk heart stuff and light stuff and not talk at all while your face is stuffed and it’s all okay.
I was acutely aware that life was about to be very different. I was very hopeful that it would also be very good, but man, talk about bittersweet.
In the midst of all of the talking and tacos, it felt holy. It felt sacred. Maybe I was the only one who felt this way, but I silently thanked Jesus for each and every one of those sweet friends, the things they taught me, the ways they loved me, and the joy of getting to experience life with them. If deep-hearted friendship around tacos isn’t holy then by golly, I don’t know what is.
I didn’t cry then. Despite the insane sadness and fear and ache of leaving beautiful friends, I did not cry. No, no, I waited until somewhere mid-Georgia on a random highway to turn on the waterworks and beg God to let me turn back and needless to say, my fifteen year old sister looked highly uncomfortable in the passenger seat. (You’re welcome, Ellie.)
I realize my last meal before moving away is drastically different from Jesus’ last meal before being crucified and taking on the sins of the world. Obviously, I get that. But I can just imagine Jesus around the last supper that Thursday. He knows what’s ahead for him. He knows that grace and salvation and death defeation (not a word but you feel me, right?) is just around the corner for all of mankind, but first…first the most horrible, horrible torture. And I bet Jesus is not looking forward to the whips and the nails and the crown of thorns… but how much worse to know that one by one your closest friends and followers will scatter in fear? How much worse to know your Father in heaven is going to not just leave you to die, but to actively crush you? Actively damn you?
Physical torture and pain is bad enough… but to be abandoned by everyone and crushed by the One who loves you most… we literally cannot imagine.
But for now… for now he’s with his friends. And while I’m sure the disciples could sense some sort of magnitude in this meal…they were buddies. They were laughing and chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Who else could relate to the crazy journey of quitting their jobs left and right to follow this friend of theirs? This was the kind of friendship for the ages. This was summer camp multiplied by twelve hundred million.
They were enjoying a meal together. They were supporting each other. Like human friends. Jesus was soaking it all in. Bittersweet.
We can grasp that, you and I.
We can’t grasp most things about this weekend – death, the weight of the sins of mankind, betrayal of that magnitude, you know, resurrection – we can’t really grasp these things. But we can all grasp the holiness of a meal around a table with people you love.
We’re gonna end this full circle with a quote from my girl Shauna in Bread & Wine:
“To those of us who believe that all of life is sacred, every crumb of bread and sip of wine is a Eucharist, a remembrance, a call to awareness of holiness right where we are…
Holiness abounds, should we choose to look for it. The whisper and drumbeat of God’s Spirit are all around us, should we choose to listen for them. The building blocks of the most common meal – the bread and the wine – are reminders to us: ‘He’s here! God is here, and he’s good.’ Every time we eat, every time we gather, every time the table is filled: He’s here. He’s here, and he is good.“
It may be Friday… but Sunday’s comin’. Jesus went through this week all those years ago for another table: a banquet table in heaven, where everyone – friends you love and ones you’ve never even met, yet somehow love just the same – can gather and party and live life to the FULL forever with our Father and the angels and whatever other awesome experiences heaven has in store.
Until then, He’s alive. He is here. He gets it. And He is good.