Maundy Thursday, April 18th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 18th: Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; John 13:1-17, 31b-35; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is Maundy Thursday. The name is derived from the Latin Vulgate word mandatum, “commandment.” The commandment is Jesus’ “new commandment” that He urges upon His followers at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Lent is a holy season of introspection and meditation. Holy Week accentuates our spiritual exercises as Jesus ventures into Jerusalem and a confrontation with His powerful enemies. And now, from Holy Thursday forward, we are in the final stretch as we move from Last Supper to Jesus’ grave. Everything about Lent is compressed and amplified.
This evening we will gather for our Maundy Thursday Service. It is intentionally solemn. We will read the same passage from John’s Gospel that is shared here. It tells us that Jesus takes on the role of the humblest servant in the house and washes the feet of His disciples. It is an important lesson the meditate upon. We’ve been reading Holy Scripture passages of the Suffering Servant. The imagery is noble and self-sacrificing. This is different. Jesus honours service. It is the truth passed over too lightly in the often repeated statement: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” This sentence is interspersed in different situations in the Gospels from which we can infer that it was remembered as a key phrase because of its frequent usage by Jesus. It is the overturning of worldly order and priority. It is the replacement of human power with God’s reign. And God’s reign grows in breadth and depth when we not only watch what Jesus does, but when we imitate His embrace of servanthood: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Continuing in our Maundy Thursday Service, we will also share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This takes us out of John’s Gospel and on to another tradition. John is unique in that he situates the institution of Communion during the feeding of the thousands. For John, this sacrament is not limited to a few in a closed room at the end of Jesus’ life. For John, Communion is positioned in the midst of Jesus’ ministry among a multitude of people. Unlike the other Gospel accounts of the feeding of the thousands, Jesus Himself distributes the miraculous bounty. The logistics are problematic, which only reinforces the theological importance that Christ is directly available to the people through this sacred meal. There are no intermediaries in John. In John’s Last Supper, the institution of Communion is replaced by the “new commandment” to love one another as Jesus has loved us, which is exemplified in the washing of the disciples’ feet. Communion with Christ and service in the world are linked together in ways church sometimes forgets in both directions.
When we receive Holy Communion this evening, as we gather in church to remember the night of Jesus’ Last Supper, we fulfill another Last Supper commandment. The most ancient biblical source of the institution account is not found in the Gospels. It is conveyed to us by Paul in today’s selection. In his telling, Jesus commands, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and we have for some 2,000 years. This time span does not move us farther and farther away from the reality of Communion. It amplifies our connection with Christ through this sacrament. It was already a tradition at the time of Paul to gather for the Lord’s Supper, and it is a tradition still holy today. Jesus is just as real in our presence now as He was 2,000 years ago. Sacrament comes from the Greek word for mystery, and the timelessness of Communion’s sacrament is part of that mystery.
Any and all are welcome to join us this evening as we gather to remember Jesus’ Last Supper and the beginning of His Passion. As we say every time we share in Communion, “All are welcome at the Communion Table.”
Faith, love and chitchat.
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