Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 14th, Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:1-14; 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 comes from the Latin word for commandment, and the commandment comes from today’s Gospel where we read: “‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
A little background: In the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. This is why in this evening’s liturgy we will share in Communion. However, John takes a different tack when it comes to this matter. Unlike the other three Gospels, the Johannine Jesus does not offer the words of institution at the Last Supper and say, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Rather, in John, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 is linked with Communion imagery as Jesus pronounces, “‘I am the bread of life.’” (6:48) He then proceeds to reveal, “‘… and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.’” (6:51, 56)
John chooses to take the Communion language out of the closed Upper Room and share it more broadly among 5,000 men. This happened not at Jesus’ last Passover, but at His second Passover (cf. 2:13; 6:4). And unlike the other Gospel accounts of the miraculous feeding, John makes sure to let us know that Jesus gave thanks over the bread and then Jesus Himself distributes the bread among all who are gathered. There is no intermediary between Jesus and recipient. It is Jesus who shares Himself with those gathered, and those gathered are not Jesus’ most stalwart followers. Among the 5,000 are many who do not understand Jesus.
John infers that this large mass of men is ready to go to battle with Jesus at their head. They assume that Jesus is the Messiah, but that this is a Davidic-type leader ready for war. John writes: “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king …” (6:15) Thus, John presents his Communion language among a vastly larger crowd than those in the Upper Room, and among people who are not necessarily wedded to Jesus’ message and ministry. The sacrament, therefore, is not presented as needing to be protected, but as the strong presence of Christ that can reach out to others and draw them in.
With the Communion language presented in this way, John is now free to present a new Last Supper priority. The new priority is Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, and not in some general way, but to love “as I have loved you.” Then Jesus takes on the garb of a servant and performs the humble task of washing the feet of His disciples to give visual evidence of what He means. A rather long and rather uninteresting dialogue takes place between Jesus and Peter as this happens, but I would love to be privy to the conversation, spoken or silently through eye contact, between Jesus and Judas. Jesus, according to John, already knows that Judas will betray Him, and yet Jesus kneels down and washes Judas’ feet. What a powerful testimony to the meaning of “as I have loved you”!
In the earlier Gospels, it is the Lord’s Table that we are called upon to do in remembrance of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, it is the new commandment to love others as Jesus loves. This is how Jesus’ disciples will be recognized. We should treat Holy Communion as a sacred gift. It should be treated with the greatest respect and awe. I know that when I say the words of institution during this evening’s worship on the very night of the institution that I am humbled to be able to share in the sacrament and to share it with others. However, for as much reverence as we devote to Communion, and rightly so, John is reminding us that we should be equally reverent when it comes to the other Last Supper institution – the institution of Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as He loves us. Both are equal vehicles for sharing in the presence and power of Christ.
On this Maundy Thursday, I invite you to join us in the beautiful and moving liturgy of this night’s worship. The Hatfield and Sunderland congregations will share in a combined Service at the Sunderland church starting at 7PM. You are invited to join us in person. If you choose to be a part of the community online, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the login.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Children Sunday School 9:30-10:30am
Nursery care available during worship
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