• Maundy Thursday

    Posted Mar 29th, 2018 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Do What We Do With | Comments Off on Maundy Thursday

    Tonight we are here to walk with Jesus through one of the darkest nights of the church calendar.  This was Jesus’ last night, a night which was marked by betrayal—by Judas and Peter— his passionate prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest and the charge by the high priest that he was guilty of blasphemy.

    The title “Maundy Thursday” is derived from the Latin Mandatum Novum which means “a new commandment.”  Maundy Thursday was the day that Christ uttered those powerful words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  He did not issue this commandment in word only, though.  Just prior to giving this commandment he demonstrated it in symbolic action when he girded himself with towel and humbly approached the basin to wash his disciples’ feet (cf. John 13:1-20).  Because of this, the liturgy of the early church included the practice of the bishop washing the feet of the congregants, thus serving them and encouraging them to live lives of servanthood as they follow the Chief Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thus, on Maundy Thursday we are reminded again of the imperative and the indicative.  Here we are reminded that Jesus descended not to be served but to serve.  We gather and remember our Servant King and his approach to the cross for us.  That’s the indicative.  As we meditate on the work of our Great Servant we are moved and motivated to be like him; to humbly and joyfully serve.

    Traditionally the observance began with a simple meal.  As Robert Webber describes it, “The table setting is always austere and the fare is very simple, reminiscent of the foods eaten in the days of Jesus.  It consists of freshly baked bread, soup, cheese, and a variety of nuts and dried fruits with the fruit of the vine to drink.”  There are table prayers.  There is the reading of John 17 as the people listen and eat in silence.  The meal closes with a reading from Psalm 69:1-23.  This is the last meal before the great Easter feast.  From here the church rises and moves silently into the sanctuary.  There is no music.  The instruments will be stowed until the service highlighting the resurrection.  In the ancient church it was here that the Scripture is read and the minister would wash the feet of the people.

    Now the church proceeds forward to take in hand and mouth the body and blood of Christ.  Here we identify with Him.  Here we recognize that we are often like Judas and Peter in our subtle denials of Jesus and his Lordship.  But here we hear the great words of justification and reconciliation.  Here we place our trust in Jesus alone.

    After this the communion table is clean, swept of any vestiges of beauty; all of which will be closeted until the resurrection.

    The service ends with a singing of Psalm 22 and the antiphon, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing (Psalm 22:18).  In many churches the sanctuary is left open for several hours or all night for the church to come and pray. Tonight we will be using a modified version of this ancient Church practice.  May God use it to direct our hearts to him and prepare our hearts for the victory of Easter.

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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