Maundy Thursday, 28 March 2013

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


Background: The Richness of Maundy Thursday
Named for the command, mandatum that Jesus gives to his disciples regarding loving one another this day is full of actions that point to the multi-faceted nature of the day.  I some dioceses, this day is given to the celebration of the Chrism Mass, when the bishop blesses the oils for the sick, the catechumens, and the chrism used at Baptism.  In the Diocese of California this is usually celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week.

With this day the Triduum (The Three Days) begins, a single service, actually that lasts through Good Friday and ends with the celebration of the resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter.  The color for this day may be Scarlet, or it may be White as it celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist.  Unlike during Lent and the other observances of Holy Week, the Gloria is sung, and bells are rung – and then are kept silent until the Great Vigil of Easter.  Following the Gospel, the Washing of Feet may be observed, following the example set in today’s Gospel.  Following the Mass, the Reserved Sacrament is taken in procession to an Altar of Repose and a vigil may be kept before the reserved elements.  Another practice is that of stripping the altar while Psalm 22 is sung.  Decorative elements in the chancel and on the altar are removed and the entire sanctuary is stripped bare.  In the Scandinavian names for this day the notion of washing is preserved in the name – Sk√§rtorsdag.

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14

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 the author introduces the idea of Passover or Pesach.  The name may be connected to a Hebrew verb which means “to jump”, the angel of death jumping over the houses of Israel.  The feast indeed may predate the actual Passover, surviving from an ancient nomadic feast of springtime.  It is not a priestly feast, but rather one that is focused on the blood, insuring that there would be ample flocks.

Another aspect to the day is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which originally marked the beginning of the barley harvest and was borrowed from the agricultural culture of the Canaanites.  These two elements are bound together in the history of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  Thus in this reading, we see the rationale of the connection and specific instructions for its celebration.  Written at a much later date, the details of this celebration represent the feast in its latest development, perhaps a product of the Priestly Tradition. 

Breaking open Exodus:

1.     When you hear the word “liberation” of what do you think?
2.     Have you ever celebrated a Seder with Jewish friends?
3.     What seemed noteworthy to you?

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 Page 759, BCP
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, and the selection in the Lectionary quickly moves us to a rite of thanksgiving.  Unlike the previous reading (see above), which describes a rural/nomadic rite that celebrated and prayed for abundance, this is a Temple rite of thanksgiving.  The initial verses form a reason for which the psalmist is drawn to offer a sacrifice in the Temple – God has responded to the psalmist’s plea and now it is time to offer something back.  The psalmist poses a question, “How shall I repay the Lord?”  The answer is that remains silent, but implied is that nothing can be offered.  The lifting of cup of libation, the making of vows, and calling on the name of the Lord are the actions that are recommended in the psalm.  This is not a private offering but rather one that is offered in the midst of the Temple in the presence of other worshipers.  The themes of offering, the lifting of the cup, and the presence at the altar all resonate to the celebration of this day that has as one of its focal points the Holy Eucharist.

Breaking open Psalm 116
1.       How do you give thanks to others?
2.       How do you give thanks to God – are there actions that you do?
3.       Do you do it privately or in the presence of others?

1 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.

Emile Nolde - The Last Supper

 There is an arch here from the celebration of the Liberation of Israel to the Eucharistic remembrance of the Lord’s death.  Paul repeats what he had learned from the ancient Christian community, and in a pointed teaching to the people at Corinth, recalls to them what the Communion was really all about.  His words are the most ancient recollection of the Last Supper, predating Mark by some eight years, and similar to Luke’s recounting of the words.  Paul may have heard them in the celebrations of the Eucharist in Antioch. Mark and Matthew’s recollections may come from the traditions of Jerusalem.

Paul sees the Eucharist as an act suspended between the death of the Lord and the parousia, the second coming of Christ.  It is the reality in which the Church lives in this liminal time, remembering and yet waiting. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:

1.               How is the Eucharist a feast of liberation?
2.               When you think of the Eucharist, what do you remember?
3.               What does Communion mean to you?

St. 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."

If the Gospel of John is the “Book of Signs” then this sign, although not a miracle is one of the preeminent signs.  This action takes place “during supper”; although in the Johannine chronology it is not the Passover.  In this beginning to John’s “Book of Exaltation”, Jesus takes time, several chapters, to instruct his disciples.  This first act, almost a show-and-tell, becomes a poignant example of what Jesus wants them to take in.  In noting, “Jesus knew that his hour had come”, John accentuates the difficult lesson that the disciples must learn.  True to character, Peter seeks to deter Jesus from this action that underscores Jesus’ humiliation.  Segmented in the conversation with Peter we see references to washing, and thus to Baptism.  Jesus points out to them that they are clean (although one is not), and is quite explicit about the diminishing time that he will share with them.  The implicit question is “what shall we do when Jesus is gone?” and the answer is the action that Jesus performs.  It is an example that is to be shared with the community that follows.  Jesus, however, does not rely on the physical nature of his example and quite plainly tells them to “love one another.”  That will be the sign to others.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Have you ever performed an act of humility?
  2. What was it and what emotions did you have while performing it?
  3. What is going on in Peter’s mind?

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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