Maundy Thursday 2016 Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14, 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
We come to the beginning of the Triduum, the three days where embark on a continuous liturgy which concludes with the Easter Vigil. We are not in church the whole time, but three days make up a whole which moves through the Solemn Mass of the Last supper including foot washing, and the watch which is kept overnight until Good Friday morning. Then we gather for the Tableau and then at noon for the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, and after a time of rest and preparation we begin the Easter Vigil where we wait to hear the story of God’s mighty acts and finally out of the silence comes the proclamation of the resurrection.
Maundy Thursday recalls the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples, and the things he left behind for them and for us. These are the gift of the sacrament of the Eucharist as a focus for his continuing presence; The gift of the foot washing as a way of understanding greatness in service, and the body of teaching and prayer in John 13-17 which is like Jesus’ last will and testament.
It all can be summed up in the New commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you, you should also love one another.
As we move through these three days it is the quality of Jesus’ love that we need watch for, because that is what we are commanded to enact among ourselves, and it is by doing this that we will be recognised as Jesus’ disciples.
Tonight we heard the story of the Passover. This is the account of how at the end of a series of plagues against Egypt and the Pharaoh the Lord brought one last plague which would cause the death of the first born of humans and animals in Egypt. The Passover was the means by which the Israelites would be protected from this plague by putting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and then hurriedly eating a simple meal, in readiness to flee. This day became a festival of Israel’s liberation by God.
It was the context of the Passover that Jesus used to interpret his sacrificial death as the formation of a new covenant. While the Israelites were saved in the Passover, there was massive destruction of life and grief. The collateral damage was enormous. The reinterpretation that comes with Jesus’ death is that there will be no collateral damage. There will be no retribution. The violence of his passion and death will be absorbed and not handed on. This is the heart of forgiveness, and it is the first quality of the love of Jesus, that he asks us to practice among each other.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Jesus gives us of himself. His body is the bread broken for us. His blood the wine poured out is the new covenant. This action is an offering, it is a sacrifice. Jesus is handing his body, his blood, his life over to God. When we celebrate the Eucharist we give thanks for the sacrifice Jesus made for us, and in response we offer our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The theme of sacrifice calls us to deep reverence concerning the sacrament. The outward form of this is genuflection or bowing and the inner essence is adoration. We carry this deep reverence into the Watch at the conclusion of this Mass.
The third quality of love is community. Jesus showed us how to form true community through service and he demonstrated an acted parable as he took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus took the role of the servant who, in those times, would have washed the feet. He showed that in order to live in community we must surrender ourselves to it, and this was his call to Peter. We must acknowledge our inability to follow Christ without the kind of community Christ established when he washed his disciples’ feet. As disciples learn about serving one another they are blessed and reveal the glory of God which is revealed in Jesus. The form might be different now, but the intention of humble service remains, and is a hallmark of authentic Christianity.
The quality of Jesus love is seen in forgiveness, sacrifice and community which are at the heart of the Eucharist. As we mingle water with the wine in the offertory the priest says, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” What this means is that his love, shown in forgiveness, sacrifice and community in his humanity allows us to share in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.
As we come to the washing of the feet this is the time of intercession and thanksgiving. It is a time to pray contemplatively for the needs of our world, our nation, the Church, the sick and them who mourn and the departed. May this remembrance of our Lord’s actions open our hearts to all that God would ask of us in service in and through this community, in our family and in the world at large.
May the peace we share at its conclusion be the expression of our desire to make this remembrance real in the world around us. Amen.