Maundy Thursday | Stephen Register
In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, he tells the story of a man sentenced to death who spent 20 minutes “absolutely convinced he was going to die,” and then received official pardon at the very last moment. Dostoevsky writes that the man “would never forget anything about those minutes” in that interval of time between his sentence and his pardon. During this time the man drunk deeply of all around him: the people, the cobblestone street, the scaffolding. … Then the man looked and “Not far away there was a church, and its gilt roof gleamed in the bright sun. He remembered that he gazed with terrible intensity at that roof and the rays of sun that sparkled from it; he could not take his eyes from those rays of light; it seemed to him this light was his new nature and that in three minutes he would somehow melt into it.” The man was being overwhelmed by this lighted scene and suddenly thought, “‘What if I was not to die! What if life was given back to me! What an eternity! And it would all be mine! I would turn each minute into a century! I would miss nothing. I would reckon each passing minute and waste nothing!’”
How much do we miss?
Maundy Thursday is the day on the liturgical calendar that precedes Good Friday. It commemorates the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. Typically we do not think of eating as something exceptional. Food is necessary to human life. Most people in the world eat every day (though there are many, many people around the world who are starving. And they have something very important to teach us about the Last Supper.) But what does it mean to have finished eating? To have a last meal? To be done with eating here on earth forever? If I knew that the meal I was eating was to be my last, I would certainly not take it for granted and would savor every bite.
For Dostoevsky’s character, as soon as he received that death sentence, every moment in time blazed with holiness. And I daresay that Jesus, there with his friends during that last meal before his death, saw that ordinary bread and wine and those familiar faces all burning with holiness. We miss that holy beauty in the world too often only because we take it for granted. We take it for granted because it is all around us all the time. The Last Supper reminds us that any normal, uninteresting moment can erupt in holy flame. We just have to be on the lookout.
Adjunct Instructor, School of Religion