Thoughts on Maundy Thursday

These thoughts born out of today's Lectionary reading: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

Exodus 12:2 "This month shall mark the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you."

God rescued his people, Israel, at the beginning of the year and from that rescue forward Jews have opened the year remembering God's provision.  (Listen, this is a little confusing because the Bible clearly says that the spring month of Nisan is the new year but we think of fall's Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish New Year.  I thought this site had a good explanation.)  As I read the reading in Exodus I thought of how I usually mark a New Year.  I might spend a few moments remembering the events of the previous year but most of my thinking is centered on the new year, on what I want to do and how I want to improve in the months ahead.  

But God gives the Israelites a "lasting ordinance" at the beginning of the year in the form of the Passover remembrance.  God tells them to remember their salvation and deliverance at His hand.  God preserved the story of that deliverance for me too.  So I read about the spotless lamb who was sacrificed for their salvation, of the way the lamb's blood was spread on the doorposts.  And I remember the spotless Lamb who was sacrificed for my salvation, of the way the Lamb's blood is spread on the doorposts of my heart.

Exodus 12:13 says, "The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. "  I've always thought of the lamb's blood as a sign for God, that God would see the blood and pass over, relenting from bringing judgment on that house. That was God's promise, for sure, that He would see the blood and no plague would destroy them.  But this time I notice something else, it says, "The blood shall be a sign for you...."  God asked them to put the blood on their doors in a visible way.  God didn't need that.  He sees all and knows all.  He could have told them to put the blood in a secret spot in their closets and He would have known about it.  Instead He asks them to be very public about it.  This is them declaring out loud that they believe that God will provide for them.  This is a sign for each other and for themselves.  It is an open profession of obedience and dependence.  The same open declaration is required of us.  The reading from Psalm 116 makes the same declaration in verse 14, "I will pay my dues to the Lord in the presence of all His people."

 

1 Corinthians 11:26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."

What does it mean to proclaim the Lord's death?  Matthew Henry says it is:

"to show forth Christ's death, to declare and publish it. It is not barely in remembrance of Christ, of what he has done and suffered, that this ordinance was instituted; but to commemorate, to celebrate, his glorious condescension and grace in our redemption. We declare his death to be our life, the spring of all our comforts and hopes. And we glory in such a declaration; we show forth his death, and spread it before God, as our accepted sacrifice and ransom. We set it in view of our own faith, for our own comfort and quickening; and we own before the world, by this very service, that we are the disciples of Christ, who trust in him alone for salvation and acceptance with God." 

And now the Lectionary moves into a passage that opens with my favorite verse in all of scripture. 

John 13:1b "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."

The first part of verse 1 tells us that Jesus knew his time had come to depart from this world.  Sounds pretty mild when you put it like that, right?  But I think Jesus knew what was coming and just how difficult it was going to be.  Even with this knowledge, though, Jesus kept on loving and loving to the utmost.  This describes his love for the disciples sitting at the table with him that night but I think it also describes his love for his own who are in the world right now.  I'm going to quote Matthew Henry again, because I love his way with words.  "Those whom Christ loves he loves to the end; he is constant in his love to his people; he rests in his love. He loves with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), from everlasting in the counsels of it to everlasting in the consequences of it. Nothing can separate a believer from the love of Christ; he loves his own, eis telos-unto perfection, for he will perfect what concerns them, will bring them to that world where love is perfect."

 

John 13:34 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Today is Maundy Thursday.  The word maundy is derived from the word for commandment.  John 13:34, then, is the focus of this day of remembrance.  Tomorrow we will meditate on the crucifixion.  Sunday we will celebrate the glory of the resurrection.  Today we focus on the new commandment that Jesus gave us in his final hours on earth.  He says we should love one another just as he loved us.  How did he love us?  To the end, to the utmost, eternally.  His love for us cost him dearly.  His love for us is defined by action.  Jesus loves us because we are his, yes, but he also loved us before we were his.  That's the kind of costly, unconditional love he was commanding us to love with. 

Are you fulfilling the new commandment Jesus gave?