Nichole Collins MacMillan

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Maundy Thursdays in a Coffee Shop

Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

“When Jesus wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.” N.T. Wright from Simply Jesus

 

A few weeks ago, Huffington Post published an article about an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh entitled Café Terrace at Night. The article draws upon the recent scholarship of art researcher Jared Baxter who has led many to consider the religious symbolism of the painting. – including the idea that van Gogh’s café terrace actually depicts the Last Supper, complete with Judas escaping through a side door. Looking with Last Supper eyes, it is easy to identify a single lone figure in white- Jesus – standing among 11 seated diners and another shadowy figure still on the terrace but separate from the rest of the group – Judas. Though the street is dark, the café terrace glows with shining, yellow light.

 

I don’t need any more convincing. Van Gogh and I have been thinking the same thing. For those who have eyes to see it, we mark this sacred meal in a little coffee shop every day. It is always Maundy Thursday for many of us at Bare Bulb Coffee.

 

Do this in remembrance of me.

 

Jesus’ words come as an invitation every time we pour a cup of coffee, serve a croissant, make a sandwich, or bake a batch of brownies. And when we do, we celebrate the joyful feast of the people of God. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.

The Master’s words fall on my ears in two parts:

Do this. Jesus invites us to get up from our pews and our pondering to do the things he did. It’s been said by a more than a few that we don’t think ourselves into a new way of acting. We act our way into new patterns of thinking. If we long to share the feast with those who come from north and south and east and west to sit together at Christ’s table, we should probably break out the dishes and begin to set the table. We should call some folks or flip on the Open sign and put a quiche in the oven. What we do will certainly be imperfect, but the doing of it will change the way we see one another. If we let it, it will soften our hearts. We will see the meaning of mercy and grace. We will learn the blessings of service and surrender. But it won’t happen until we put down our books – maybe even put down our Bibles – and use our hands and our feet.

In remembrance of me. Celebrating the Last Supper in a coffee shop is a constant reminder that all are welcome at the table. We are invited to welcome the ones who are having a bad day. We have the chance to serve the ones who are incredibly difficult to please. We set a table for the ones who mix the salt and pepper in the shakers for grins and giggles. We abide with the ones who don’t know what they want and the ones who just want a place to be, someone to know their name and how they take their coffee.

Jesus sat at tables with people just like that, just like us. He ate with sinners and broke bread with doubters. He raised a glass with the haughty and shared a feast with one who was hell-bent on doing him in. It seems he went out of his way to raise eyebrows when he chose dinner companions. If our coffee shop ever feels so holy that people begin to think they aren’t good enough to come in, we have forgotten how Jesus did things. It is in remembrance of him that we choose not to play praise music or cover our walls with crosses and scripture. It’s in remembrance of him that we take the role of servants – wiping up spills, cleaning bathrooms, and, yes, refilling the salt and pepper shakers. We do it so that all will feel welcome, all will feel at home, all will feel safe at these tables. Just as we don’t fully understand why or how Jesus welcomed and loved and gave as he did, we don’t need the ones we serve to necessarily know why we do it. At the same time, we can never forget it.

A continuous feast requires washing a lot of dishes. It takes a band of committed men and women to help and to host. But the bread is sweet, and the wine tastes of earth and sunshine. And when we pause to wipe our hands on our aprons, we are blinded by the light of the reign of God already present among us.

Thank you, van Gogh. May we never look at a coffee shop the same way again.

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