Maundy Thursday, April 13
A Cold and Broken Hallelujah
“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ ..." (Matthew 26:26-28)
This is a divine mystery we would do well to understand as far as we’re able but one we should realize we can’t fully comprehend, not this side of paradise. How, exactly, does bread become body and wine become blood? We don’t know, except that it is promised. And embedded in that promise is the power to save.
It’s Sunday morning in one of our churches, a congregation populated almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants. I’m there with an out-of-town mission group, worn out by two full days of hard work putting in a new kitchen. These Anglos – veterans of several such trips - are exhausted, but grateful for the opportunity to make a tangible difference for the better with their Christian brothers and sisters.
Holy Communion. A couple of the Anglo mission trippers have been recruited to sing with the Hispanic worship band during distribution. I stand at the front of the congregation as people flow out of the pews and into the center aisle to come forward to receive the elements. One Anglo family of four comes forward and smile as they hold out their hands. I’ve known them for years, ever since we went on mission trips together, and serving them Communion now feels like a loving touch of home. They’re followed immediately by a weathered and weary, time-worn 70-something Mexican man holding out his hands for a piece of the same loaf.
I realize that my Anglo friends are headed back to Kansas City and a relatively predictable future. The Mexican is headed out the door and very possibly into the hard arms of ICE, jail, and return to Mexico. All after receiving the same sacred gift of sacrificed life. And I suddenly hear what the worship band is playing. It’s Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and the singers’ beautiful voices adorn the verse, “Our love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
This cold and broken Hallelujah that is the very self-emptying of Christ, this gift that unites us - who can understand it? But then, understanding isn’t the point. It is to receive, and in the receiving to submit to and to be swept up into, the mystery that overwhelms us and makes us whole.
Rev. Roger Gustafson, Bishop
Central States Synod, ELCA
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