Time and Timelessness
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Thursday, April 9th: 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.
How many days in particular change the world? An eminent biblical scholar, John P. Meier, authored a two-volume tome for the Anchor Bible series entitled A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. It was published in 1991. These books were and remain critical to my understanding of the Bible and through the Bible of Jesus. I respect his scholarship. Now, no one knows for certain on what particular day Jesus of Nazareth died. For as important as He is to us, Jesus was crucified as a common insurrectionist by the Romans who crucified many a common insurrectionist. This means that there are no extant, formal records of His death.
We do, however, believe with a great deal of certainty that His crucifixion was ordered by the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, and since Pilate was a notable man within the Roman government, we know from contemporaneous records that he ruled from 26-36 AD. For various reasons, it is calculated that Jesus died within the range of 30-33 AD.
During only two of those years did the fourteenth of Nisan (from today’s Exodus passage) probably fall on a Friday. They would correspond with April 7, 30 AD and April 3, 33 AD. Meier shies away from the year 33 because this would indicate a longer term of public ministry than the Gospels indicate. He favours by a process of logical elimination the date of April 7, 30 AD as the particular day on which Jesus was crucified and died. This was a particular day that changed the world.
Today is Maundy Thursday. On the liturgical calendar, this is the day prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. This is the day of the Last Supper. This is when Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion and gave us the new mandatum, commandment, to love one another “as I have loved you,” as it says in today’s Gospel selection. This is specific enough to prevent us from imagining what we want “love one another” to mean. It means serving others. It means serving a greater good. It means the humbleness to realize our basic equality. It means as we say during every Communion Service, “Sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.”
And we may assume that the particular day was April 7, 30 AD (Remember that in the Jewish tradition the day begins at sunset.), but we have a greater trust in the events and continuing importance of that day, whatever the particular day. Paul shares with us today his account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and he uses technical terminology: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you …” In an age when oral tradition was extremely serious, this terminology indicates that this tradition was handed on person to person with the utmost care for its authenticity. Paul puts into writing a record that reaches back to the first days of the faith. And in that tradition, Jesus says, “‘Do this in remembrance of me.’’ And we have for almost 2,000 years, and we will this evening, on this particular day.
Particular dates can change the world. Jesus’ crucifixion ended His human life on the particular date of April 7, 30 AD, but timelessness was waiting on the other side of that Sabbath. From that timelessness, Jesus reaches out to us in our ever constant and changing "now" when we share in Communion and when we practice Jesus’ “new commandment.” These are the holiest days of Holy Week, and they are not history. They are not past. They are mysteries that surround us still. I hope and pray that we will choose to be embraced by the mystery of this timelessness on these particular days.
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