Posts Tagged 'Maundy Thursday'

For March 28, 2013: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

According to the instructions in the book of Exodus, the first Passover meal is to be eaten in haste by people who are packed to flee from a plague. Our ritual meals generally look far different—family gatherings amid the silver and the best china for rejoicing that can last for hours—but in this life, we are all in haste.

The Response            Psalm 116:1, 10-17

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Writing to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth, Paul echoes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: the bread and wine are not just things to eat and drink but signs of the new covenant that Jesus made with his own body and blood. These are our words of institution at the Eucharist, of course.

The Gospel            John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Son of God teaches us the truest way to be God: love and serve.


Further thoughts

The lections for Maundy Thursday juxtapose two meals with great significance in the evolution of the relationship between God and humanity.

On the one hand, there is the first Passover with its carefully laid out specifications: a yearling male sheep or goat, slaughtered at twilight, roasted whole, eaten in haste with the quick-cooking unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the lamb’s blood painted around the door to shield the Israelites from the shattering plague—death of every first-born in Egypt—through which God would effect their liberation from Egypt. The point of the roasting is that the creature is a ritual sacrifice. This first Passover meal is commemorated by observant Jews every year as the Passover Seder, though lamb is rarely the centerpiece; the reason for this is that ritual sacrifice can only happen in the Temple—which was demolished in 70 AD and has not been rebuilt. The modern Passover Seder thus commemorates the sacrifice without actually being the sacrifice, and it serves to help humans remember God’s mighty acts on their behalf.

On the other hand, there is the first Maundy Thursday meal. It is not the Passover meal, but rather a meal of the night before, and it may be remarkable as much for what does not happen as for what does happen: nothing is slaughtered; nothing is obligatory for the menu; no elaborate preparations are required. Instead, Jesus takes the sort of stuff we eat all the time anyway and serves it forth with his love in a way that makes it stand for all time for his own sacrifice of himself for us. Of course it is the prototype for our Eucharist. The word “eucharist” is most often analyzed as coming from Greek eucharistos ‘thankful’, though it’s worth noting that the Greek root charis– shares with the Latin root grati– the property of denoting either ‘thanks’ (gratitude) or ‘gift’ (grace).

That we have turned the simple meal into a ritual is unsurprising. As with the Seder, the ritual and elaboration help us remember by calling us mindfully to commemorate God’s mighty acts on our behalf, and this is a good thing. Many of us also say grace with more everyday meals, and that is also good and right. But what if we were to think of each ordinary meal—each ordinary act—also as a reminder to pay back by paying grace forward in Christ’s love to all to whom we are called to be neighbors?

For April 5, 2012: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

On this holy night we read instructions for the first Passover meal. Unlike most ritual meals, it is to be eaten in haste by people who are ready to flee, and the lamb’s blood marks the households of those who are to be spared.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Writing to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth, Paul passes on the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: when you eat the bread and drink the wine, remember that it signifies not just food and drink but the new covenant that Jesus made with his own body and blood.

Further thoughts

The book of Exodus compiles a number of oral traditions into a grand if somewhat jumbled account of God’s power in bringing God’s people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The passage we read on this holy night sets forth God’s instructions for the first Passover. It is a ritual meal—but unlike most ritual meals, it is to be eaten in haste by people who stand ready to run for their lives, and the blood from the lamb that is slain for the meal is to mark the households to be spared when God executes judgment. In this, we Christians also see the Last Supper.

The reading from Exodus instructs the people of Israel—who were in the first covenant with God—to commemorate the Passover perpetually. The Jews, our elder brothers and sisters in belief in the One True God, do this every year in the Seder, the ritual meal to which many invite those who cannot provide their own.

In writing to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth, Paul would have had this tradition in mind along  with the words of Jesus. The tradition would doubtless also have been taught to and shared with the Gentiles. Unfortunately, things had gone awry; seen in context, our reading scolds certain of the Corinthians for treating the celebration of the Eucharist—that which we are to do for the remembrance of Christ—as an opportunity to feast richly and get drunk while others in the community at the same feast go away half-fed because they can afford no more. For Jesus’ instructions on this holy night are quite clear: Love one another, and serve one another right.

We humans can be remarkably talented at misusing and misconstruing so many of the gifts of God, but on some level we do recognize that loving and serving are the names of the game. Perhaps this recognition, and our awareness of our need to be reminded like the Corinthians, explains why, bit by bit, the older names for this day—the Latin cena Domini ‘meal of the Lord’, the Anglo-French jour de la cene ‘day of the meal’, the English Sheer Thursday (most probably ‘clean Thursday’), Holy Thursday—are giving way even in other denominations to the name Maundy Thursday, This Anglican name, which dates back to the sixteenth century, reflects the mandatum novum ‘new commandment’ of John 13:34 by way of the medieval maundy, the practices of foot-washing and giving of alms (most probably packed in the baskets called maunds).

It can be hard, though, to remember that the commandment isn’t limited to Maundy Thursday. How can we “do maundy” the rest of the week, the rest of the year, the rest of our lives?

Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers