Famine and Resurrection
If you dined with us on Maundy Thursday evening, you were likely either shocked at the black soul of your potato or were surprised to be turned away hungry. On Maundy Thursday this year, we found ourselves the victims of an unexpected potato blight. Though they seemed perfectly acceptable on the outside, more than half of the potatoes our dedicated kitchen crew had carefully wrapped and baked proved to be shockingly black when sliced open to receive their toppings. Our competent kitchen ladies rose to the task, rallied together, and set the example of sacrificial service needed to address such a surprising challenge. In the vein of loaves and fishes, they adopted a divide-and-conquer approach and strove to cast salvageable morsels far and wide.
As word spread that food was scarce, the meal took a different turn. A few began to realize they weren’t so hungry after all and decided to wait and eat much later. Several began to see the large potato in front of them as “entirely too much food” and made quick division of it to share. Some decided on a salad-only meal, and nearly everyone began spying to see whether his or her neighbor had a sufficient sampling. A real, genuine opportunity to live out the purpose of Maundy Thursday was unexpectedly thrust upon us. While the basins and pitchers of water sat waiting to be employed in a contrived, carefully orchestrated act of service, the potato blight was heralding an unexpected, authentic call to truly, sacrificially serve one another.
This is exactly as it should be. The real-life call to sacrificially love and serve one another is usually unplanned, inconvenient, and costly. Your neighbor’s funeral will likely be on your only day off, your mom’s first cancer treatment will probably interrupt your vacation, and your friend’s suicidal thoughts usually come the night before your big project is due. This is the nature of sacrificial service. Something must be sacrificed so that something else might live. Death must precede life. Whether it’s our food, our time, our agenda, our sleep, our dignity, our reputation, our wants, our money, our grades, or even our rights, something of ours must die so that something of another’s might live—even if that something is nothing more than hope.
During Ireland’s mid-19th century potato famine, Christians from all over the globe answered a desperate call to help feed the starving Irish multitudes. In fact, the Irish Potato Famine was the first national disaster to receive international aid. While Britain skimped on assistance for its subjects, the global response was unprecedented. Eventually many religions contributed aid, but it was the Quakers who led the charge to sacrificially serve God’s Irish humanity. Though the number of Quakers was small, their tireless personal involvement yielded the establishment of soup kitchens and saved the lives of countless Irish men, women, and children. However, the Quakers’ ceaseless efforts took a tremendous toll and Ireland’s gain came at a great personal cost to the Quakers who lost many of their members to famine-related diseases and sheer, utter exhaustion. Lives were sacrificed so that some might live and all might hope.
The paradox of the Triduum is that we begin on Maundy Thursday with Christ’s bid to die so that on EasterSunday he might call us forth to rise. When Christ gave the disciples a new command—“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”—he knew it would require self-sacrifice for them to do so. He knew he bade them die. But he also knew a greater truth. He knew the end of the story—“because I live, you also will live! On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:19,20) When we sacrificially love and serve one another, we bear Christ’s cross. But God won’t allow our sacrifice to be the end of our story. He promises us the renewal of abundant, resurrection life on the heels of each and every sacrifice. In the margin of my Bible next to Romans 8:11 is this tiny scrawled note written long ago: “Personal resurrection is the most unnoticed and under-appreciated miracle of our common, ordinary lives.”
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”—Romans 8:11
As we begin this Easter season together, may we be awed not only by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, but also by those we see in one another and within ourselves as well.