Maundy Thursday

On the last night with his followers, Jesus called for a final meal together, there in an upper room in Jerusalem, in an evening that would have great meaning for the Church to be born on Pentecost. Was that final feasting a Passover meal, or was it a friendship meal? The answer is: we just don’t know. The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) tell us that it was a Passover meal (with all the symbolism that carries) and John’s gospel says it was a friendship meal (though the meal itself is not described there.) We in the Western Church follow the synoptics and treat the event as a final Passover in Jesus’ life, whilst the Eastern Church follows John’s account and considers it a friendship meal. One practical result is that, at Eucharist, we in the West (with the odd maverick exception) use matzoh, the unleavened bread, and the East uses leavened bread.

The technical aspects are not important here, but rather what takes place. At supper with the apostles, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, declares it his Body, and gives it out. Later, the takes wine, blesses it, declares it his Blood, and gives it out. Then he authorizes (ordains) his apostles to continue the rite “to remember me.” The apostles, and the bishops and priests following down twenty centuries, continue that mandate. The individual, ordained in that Apostolic Succession, stands in for Jesus as host, and does those very acts Jesus did, who is himself in the Sacrifice both the Victim and the Priest.

We believe that Christ is truly present, in every particle of the consecrated Bread, in every drop of the consecrated Wine. And he is fuel for our daily spiritual journeys. But now we are in isolation and in lockdown for a first time! Most of us will make our Spiritual Communion on this holy occasion, asking the Saviour whom we cannot receive sacramentally to come into our hearts in a special way spiritually, in union with him.

Perhaps John’s account of that last night is specially poignant this year, as he does not narrate the Institution, but rather the events following the meal. (In fact, in lieu of the details of the meal, Jesus preaches a lengthy sermon in chapter six, expounding on his Real Presence in the Eucharist.) After the dinner, Jesus wrapped a towel round his waist and washed the feet of his beloved band, an act which gobsmacked their leader, Peter, because this task was reserved for slaves. Jesus symbolizes his role, and ours, as slaves of God in service to to others. The day is called “Maundy” after the Latin mandatum, because he says we must be servants of our fellow humans. Maybe our restriction to Spiritual Communion this year — odd as it is — will in some way specially bless us to serve others in any way we can, including prayer, support, and advocacy for those on the front lines of the war against the coronavirus. Some churches have people wash feet on this night, but out of literalistic reading of the text, but that practice is not a part of our culture. Our equivalent will be to act, as Jesus tells us elsewhere, compassionately, just as our Heavenly Father is compassionate. To do any acts of love, kindness,and comfort, directly or indirectly, for those in need, in a spirit of Christ-like service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *