Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Maundy Thursday

   “Maundy”: an old word derived from the same root as “mandate.” Jesus didn’t typically command much. But on his last night he issued this mandate: “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so we do, with solemnity, joy, sorrow and hope.

It was Passover, the most sacred meal of the year when Jews celebrated God’s powerful deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and a day of dramatic hope, looking for God to deliver them once again. On such a festive night, Jesus seemed inordinately somber. He washed their feet – when they would eagerly have washed his. He spoke gloomily about his imminent suffering, and betrayal. As he tore off a piece of bread, he got a glimpse of his own body being crucified. Staring into the cup of red wine, he envisioned his own blood being shed.

The disciples were pretty much clueless – and so I love Austin Farrer’s words: “Jesus gave his body and blood to his disciples in bread and wine. Amazed at such a token, and little understanding what they did, Peter, John and the rest reached out their hands and took their master and their God. Whatever else they knew or did not know, they knew they were committed to him… and that they, somehow, should live it out.”

Jesus left dinner a bit early, walked out of the walled city of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, and prayed in the garden called Gethsemane. Kneeling in anguish, Jesus prayed “Not my will, but Your will be done.” His mood wasn’t fatalistic. He actively and courageously sought and embraced God’s will, which isn’t some dark luck, but is when we with trusting faith go where God leads us, no matter the cost.

Jesus mercifully bore Judas’s betrayal, then was arrested. During the night, charges were trumped up, witnesses were compelled to lie. The proceedings were highly irregular… Who was responsible for Jesus’ death? The Jews? The Romans? You and me? The Jews handed him over to the Romans, the Romans handed him back to the Jews, the disciples handed him over. No one wanted to be responsible, and so they (and we!) are all guilty.

Ultimately, God was responsible for this riveting, revolutionary enactment of divine love and holy determination to be one with us, and to save us. Through that dark Thursday night in detention, Jesus was abused, mistreated, his destiny sealed. Holy Thursday waited all night for the chilly dawn of the day with the paradoxical name: Good Friday.

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