Taste has a way of taking us back. A bite of home cooked bread, or the first sip of our favorite drink has a way of awakening a pool of memories and thoughts. Within my family, occasions like New Years are remembered by the taste of smoked salmon and cheese fondue. I can tell you whose birthday party I’m at by what kind of birthday cake is being served. I even remember when my sisters and I were kids, the first time I ever had skim milk was at my grandmother’s house splashed over a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I knew what my cereal was supposed to taste like and it wasn’t whatever was swimming around in my bowl. To this day, I cannot stand the taste (or lack thereof) of skim milk, but I always remember that moment whenever I see a carton. Taste has a way of tying us into our memories in a unique and powerful way. In light of Holy Week and especially Maundy Thursday and the last supper, it’s fascinating what role and position taste plays in the story. Let’s talk about the two last things Jesus tasted before he died.
In the gospel of John, the last request and the last sensation that Jesus has other than pain is taste. His last statement of need or want is contained in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.” When we look at the words in light of the last taste and the last cup that Jesus took for himself before this moment, they take on a significant position in the passion story. It was presumably around the table with his disciples the night before, during the meal where Jesus shared broken bread and a cup of shared wine that Jesus experienced his last taste before the cross. The wine at the table, he was surrounded by those he loved and cherished. The sour wine at the cross soaked into a sponge suspended on a stick of hyssop, he was surrounded by guards and those filled with hate.
These two last drinks of wine bookend what the gospel of John calls Jesus’ final hour. On the front end, the scriptures beginning in John 13 say, “Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” On the back end in 19:28, on the cross, when he asks for his last drink, it says, “When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’” What lies between the wine at the table and the wine on the cross is the final lesson, the final commandment that Jesus left for his followers, and I believe left for us. “Love one another.” Love each other like I loved you. This is how others will know that you are my disciples, by the way you love each other (John 13:31-35).
Jesus demonstrated most fully what this love looked like when during that final meal and around their last cup together, Jesus rose and took off his outer robe. He tied a towel around his waist and began to wash his disciples’ feet. After he finished, he put his robe back on, returned to the meal and told them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set an example that you should also do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).
With this last commandment and this last example of a love that is humble and deep, Jesus finalizes his preparation for the church. Then, he gives it away. He gives away the church to us. He asks for us only to kneel, wrap a towel around our waist and serve each other out of the love that he has for us. He asks us to love in such a way that when others who are searching and hurting say, “I am thirty”, rather than sour wine, they can find the source of living water and the cup that runs over with God’s grace. It says they will know where to look by the way we love each other.
And so I wonder, as that sour wine, suspended on the stick of hyssop, as it wet his mouth, did the taste and wetness stir his memories as we know that taste does with ours? Did scenes flash of his last drink with his friends? Did the taste bring back through the pain and through the exhaustion a memory of the first moments of his ministry when he turned water into wine? Wine to wine, a sense of completion through the agony. One last, painful, futile, sour taste and human comfort before the end. All was complete. What he loved, the people, the church, are cared for and in another’s hands now. Our hands. We continue the ministry and the life of God when we cannot see him and cannot find him with the help of the Holy Spirit and the help of each other. We hold the kingdom in trust together, gathering around a table to remember and taste what God has done for us. We break the bread of community and sacrifice and share the cup of salvation so that others may come and taste that the Lord is good.
feature picture from: http://request.org.uk/festivals/holy-week-and-easter/maundy-thursday-in-the-church/