Collect for Maundy Thursday
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility:
Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, ever one God, throughout all ages,
world without end. Amen.
Old Testament lesson:
Exodus 12, Vv 1 - 14
1 Corinthians 11, 23 - 26
St John 13, Vv 1 - 17 & 31b - 35
Tonight is the most appropriate evening in the whole Christian Calendar on which to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. In the great scheme of things the events of Holy Week have now moved on to the Last Supper. We have thought about the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem on a donkey, followed by his clearing of the traders from the Temple. We’ve thought about our Lord teaching in the Temple – and the crowds flocking to hear him with his wonderful message of Good News – the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven – of the Kingdom of God. Doubtless our Lord was also well aware of how the authorities were scheming to find a way, place and time to arrest him and dispose of him. “If he won’t go quietly, we’ll have to get rid of him some other way”. And now it was the all-important feast of “The Passover”. This was the feast for the Jewish people to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Matthew, Mark and Luke set the Last Supper as the “Passover Meal” – so that’s three votes for “Passover”. John – for poetic and theological reasons – places the Last Supper on the night before the Day of Preparation: the day when people cleared the house of any trace of leavened bread, and the day when the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover meal the next day. He put the Last Supper the evening before the day of Preparation so that in the time-scale, our Lord would be crucified on the Day of Preparation – the Lamb of God being slaughtered as the lambs were being slaughtered for Passover. This seems so complicated that it is much easier to take it that the Last Supper was the Passover meal. It makes such good sense of our Lord taking the bread and saying: take and eat this – this is my Body – and likewise with the final cup of wine – this is my blood.
Matthew, Mark & Luke record the taking and giving of the bread and wine. Luke includes the words “Do this in remembrance of me”. John doesn’t include anything about the taking and giving of the bread or wine, but instead records our Lord washing the disciples’ feet.
So, putting the four accounts together, we have the whole of the Passover Supper preceded by our Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet – an act of total humility – the task of a slave at the door to welcome guests and wash their feet after a dusty journey – and then the sacred meal. This consisted of several courses – the main one of which was the course of lamb – and during the meal were four cups of wine shared by all around the table. When the first cup of wine was taken, the head of the household (or the head of those round the table) would take the cup and say: “Blessed is our Lord God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine, and gives us Life!” Then the cup would be handed round and each, as he passed the cup on, would say: “The Life of God be with you”.
There are all sorts of details in the meal with profound significance, but I’m just looking at the bare essentials for our purposes this evening.
When they reach the stage for the second cup of wine the head would give thanks with the same words but ending with the word “Freedom”. And they would pass it round saying “The Freedom of God be with you”. About now Jesus would have taken the top piece of unleavened bread and would have said: “Blessed be our Lord God, King of the Universe, who brings us food out of the earth.” We read that then Jesus took the bread and said “Take and eat this; This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then comes the main meal – which is, of course, lamb prepared the day before (on the day of preparation). Thanks is then given for the meal, after which comes the third cup. This third cup represented “Peace”. (The Peace of God be with you). At this point Jesus may well have said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives give I unto you.” Then came the fourth and final cup of wine. It is very likely that at this point, when the cup was simply one of fellowship at the end of the meal, Jesus will have said: “All of you, drink from this cup; this is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” And with that they sang a hymn (what we know as a Psalm) and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane and faced what was to come. Our Lord prayed and the disciples had already had such a day they fell asleep three times – but they stayed awake once they realised what was happening to their Lord and hero. We will think far more about this tomorrow. Tonight, let us partake of this sacred meal and hold in our hearts what this meal truly means. Let us also open our hearts anew to our living Lord who went through all this for each one of us; and may he come into our lives and renew us with his love and peace.
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