I have always had a problem with Lent.
It’s not that I didn’t like it as a Christian holiday, but I think it’s because the “holiday” always asked more of me. Maybe “less” would be a better choice of word here. Because on this “holiday” we give up those sweets we so love. We do not swear. We take up vegetarianism not because we worry about how meat is processed in the United States, but because we have to “deny ourselves.”
Then, after however long Lent is (because to be honest, most of us forget about Lent while we are in it), we get to eat the food we love again, celebrate Easter, and then go home. No qualms, no questions. Jesus is risen, so what’s the point, right?
The culmination of Lent during Holy Week only serves to complicate our view of it, because Holy Week has lost a bit of its charisma in Protestant churches. Without giving a large church history lesson, there was a lot of fear and acknowledgement of the misuse of power during the Reformation. This caused a lot of questions and concerns around rituals and practices that the church did and performed. But, at the end of it all, Protestants might have lost some sense of truth in passing by those practices.
Because, I think, the Thursday of Holy Week is pivotal. Maundy Thursday might lend itself to summing up what Lent is supposed to be. I’ll stake that claim.
You see, this Lent I tried to give up hating myself. And I am not sure it worked. I deeply struggle with how I view myself. Since “coming out” (2013-ish), it has become clear to me that I had been living under a mask. For myself and for others.
I was hiding who I was and who I am from the most important person in my life: myself. Once that “mask” came off, I did not know the person I was. I was a stranger. I did not know what to do with myself. And sometimes, I still don’t.
I think Judas felt this way, too. According to the Gospel of Luke, the chapter with the Last Supper (Luke 22) starts off with Judas “who was one of the twelve” going away “and [conferring] with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray [Jesus] to them” (v. 3). Judas is doing something that seems out of character. Judas is betraying the one whom Judas loves: Jesus. For money. What happened? Why is Judas doing this?
Rather than reckoning with his own mask, maybe Judas had imposed a mask on Jesus that he was unwilling to look behind.
Or maybe Judas finally saw Jesus for who Jesus is: God’s child. That reality scared Judas; he panicked. Judas did not like the idea that Jesus was not going to liberate the Israelites with the sword, but with something else. Something that Judas did not understand.
So how does this relate to Maundy Thursday? This day in Holy Week is about a lot of things: feet washing, Christ’s Last Supper, the knowledge coming to the forefront that Jesus is going to be betrayed and killed. But I think Maundy Thursday is more than those things.
I think Maundy Thursday is about masks coming off. That Jesus is trying to show the world who Jesus actually is. And, in the middle of the confusion and uncertainty, folks react against the person behind the mask they imposed.
The truth, however, is that Jesus never had a mask. The disciples did. Judas did. And I think we all do, too. But, on that night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and audaciously claimed that it was their own body. Then Jesus took a cup of wine, blessed it, and said that it was their own blood. There it is. Jesus did what Jesus came to do: to show that they were who they said they were; that they weren’t wearing a mask over their face. Without that mask, folks hated Jesus. But Jesus was going around to show others that they didn’t need their masks.
And that got Jesus killed.
I still don’t like Lent. Mostly, because Jesus is still calling me to take off my mask. The mask of self-doubt, self-loathing, even the mask of being the best queer I can be. But, then we get to Maundy Thursday, and Jesus meets us where we are and offers us bread and wine. Audaciously, and full of hospitality, saying that you don’t need that mask here, beckoning us to throw caution (and the mask) to the wind.
Even in the knowledge that Jesus was going to be betrayed and die, Jesus is still there to ask us to be authentically who we are supposed to be. Maybe that is what Lent is about. Maybe that is why Maundy Thursday is so vital to Holy Week.