The Triduum - Maundy Thursday, 1 April 2010

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I Corinthians 11:23-26
Saint John 13:1-17, 31b-35


The Triduum, or the Great Three Days constitute a Liturgy that is celebrated over the period of three days; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day.  With the reforms of the liturgy in the 50s and 60s, the Triduum, as a liturgical period distinct from Holy Week, has become more and more a given.  Each liturgy has its distinct acts.  Maundy Thursday concentrates on the Mandatum Novum  (“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another), the Washing of Feet, and a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The day commemorates Christ’s institution of the Eucharist.  The color for the day may be white or scarlet.  The last act of the evening is the Stripping of the Altar and the setting aside of the Reserve Sacrament on an Altar of Repose. 

Good Friday is noted for the simplicity of its liturgy, during which the Passion According to Saint John is read, the cross is venerated, and the reproaches may or may not be said.  There is a communion of the Pre-Sanctified, using reserved elements from the previous evening’s mass. 

The Easter Vigil is a liturgy that centers on a long series of readings from the Old Testament that culminates in Baptisms and Affirmation of Baptism, following which the first mass of Easter is sung.  The color of the day is White or Gold.

Exodus 12:1-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

In this reading from Exodus, we read about the institution of the Passover, and all of the customs that surround it.  The logic behind the choice of this reading is that the Passover is foundational to the institution of the Eucharist, and so the day that celebrates its institution properly looks back to its Jewish roots.  There are many symbols evident in the reading that are translated into Christian icons:  the Lamb and Jesus, the Seder Meal and the Eucharist, The Bread and the Wine and the elements of the Eucharist, the saving properties of the Blood, the notion of a day or rite of Remembrance, and the whole theological notion of being saved from death, and given freedom. 

Breaking open Isaiah
1.  Have you ever been to a Seder?
2.  What elements of the meal and ritual were striking to you?
3.  What are your images and impressions at the Eucharist?

Psalm 116, 1, 10-17 Dilexi quoniam

I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.

O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,

In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

This is a thanksgiving psalm, in which the psalmist gives thanks for recovery from illness.  Its use here is dependent upon several images in the psalm that relate to the institution of the Eucharist, namely:  “I will lift up the cup of salvation” and “I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”  Other images relate to the Passion of our Lord: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants”, and “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord.”

Breaking open Psalm 116
1.     What kinds of vows have you made?  Have you made any to God?  Have you made any to yourself? 
2.     What is your prayer life like when you are ill or threatened?
3.     What is your prayer life like when you are healthy and secure?

I Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

This passage from I Corinthians predates the accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist in the Gospels, and it is language that we preserve in the Eucharistic Prayer, that rehearses Christ’s words and actions.  In this reading, Paul impresses upon his reader that he is not inventing or amending, but rather passing on apostolic teaching about this central Christian rite. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. What do you believe about the Eucharist?  How would you describe it to someone who had asked you what it was?
2.  What are your thoughts at the communion?  What goes through your mind?
3.  What does Jesus mean when he talks about the new covenant
4.  How important is the Eucharist to you?

Saint John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' 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."

John does not place the institution of the Eucharist at a Passover Meal, as do the other Gospel writers.  He also includes something described as the “new commandment”, and the foot washing as well.  There would have been a foot washing regardless of whether Jesus wanted to comment on it or not.  It was part of the etiquette that was expected of a host at dinner.  It looks back to nomadic days, when a guest, or chance traveler, would need to refresh themselves and their feet after a long journey in the desert or wilderness.  So it is here – but Jesus puts a new interpretation on it (just as he does on the bread and wine that accompany the meal).  As host, Jesus not only offers a foot washing, but offers to do it himself, taking on the role of a servant.  In his subsequent speech on what has happened, Jesus tries to describe a different kind of community – a community that is known for its ability to love one another.  Indeed, this becomes a telling sign in the early church, when the Christians of Antioch are characterized by those outside the church when they comment, “see how they love one another.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1. How does the Eucharist instill love?
2.  If you see someone going to communion with whom you have some difficulty, how does his or her presence at the meal affect you?
3.  What are the bounds of the love that Jesus describes?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Maundy Thursday:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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