April 5th, Maundy Thursday

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you this day, our Rock and our Redeemer.
On the night before he died, Jesus ate with his disciples in what we have come to call the Last Supper. On four Sundays and on Maundy Thursday, we in this church, celebrate what we call the Lord’s Supper. As Jesus and his disciples did, we share in this meal. But, for us, it is not the LAST supper, but one which we will continue to do, to remind us of that supper over 2000 years ago.
There are many things connected with this day, and tonight, I want to share some of them with you. The word MAUNDY comes from the Latin mandatus, meaning commandment. It was on this night that Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another as he has loved us.
Maundy Thursday is the night on which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. In some denominations, this practice is still followed. Here, we do the washing of the hands, so that they will be clean when we share in the bread and wine. Water is used to clean, and, in the church, it is a powerful symbol of cleanliness. It was through water that the world was destroyed at the time of Noah, and Jesus was baptized in the water of the river Jordan. Water was used many times in both the old and new testaments to cleanse lepers, and Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.
Some churches, on this night, consecrate oil which will be used for anointing throughout the year. Although anointing is a part of the Presbyterian liturgy, we, in this church, do not do this, and I obtain my oil elsewhere. This anointing reminds us of the woman who poured expensive oil over Jesus’ head and feet. When the disciples reprimanded her, Jesus told them that she had anointed his body for burial, and that she would always be remembered for doing this.
On this night, we have shared in the Lord’s Supper, which is called by different names, depending on the denomination and even on the custom of the individual church. It has been called the Lord’s Supper, Communion, Eucharist, Mass, Sacrament of the Altar, Lord’s Table, and the Breaking of Bread. It has been referred to as a sacrament and as a sacrifice. My question to you this night is, “What is this meal?” What does it mean to you?
According to Living Faith, the Lord’s Supper is a joyful mystery, whereby Jesus takes the bread and wine to represent his atoning sacrifice. It is also thanksgiving to God. By taking part in the Eucharist, we pledge allegiance to Christ as Lord; we are fed as one church; we receive the signs of his love; and we are marked as his.
But what is it for you? Is it a gift from God or a meaningless ritual? Does it unite you with the crucified and risen Christ or is it a relatively uninspiring time of fellowship?
Most importantly, it is a meal, but a meal unlike any other we ever eat. It is a meal with meagre portions for the physical part of us, but our spiritual side is filled to overflowing every time we take part in this celebration. It is a memorial meal. Jesus said: Do this in remembrance of me. Many of us share in a special meal on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, of on the birthday of one who is no longer with us. And what more special person to remember in this way than our Lord and Saviour? It is a holy meal, one which is consecrated by Jesus’ own words. The very words he spoke, the words of institution, are used by Christians all over the world when we celebrate this sacrament. It is a meal of forgiveness. In the Roman Catholic tradition, there are two kinds of sacraments – sacraments of the living, and sacraments of the dead. They consider Communion to be a sacrament of the living, and believe that it is necessary to confess their sins in order to take part. We, as Presbyterians, believe that it is through sharing the bread and wine that we share in the forgiveness that was won for us on the cross. It is a family meal. Once a year, on World Communion Sunday, we share with all Christians this celebration. And whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this church, our family of faith grows stronger, comes closer. When we eat this meal together, we enter into unity with one another. On this day, when we all tear a piece from the loaf, we can see clearly this concept of unity. We are all one when we share communion. We celebrate our oneness of faith, oneness of doctrine, and oneness of purpose together.
We have removed the trappings of the feast, and left the altar bare and cold, for tonight is the night of betrayal, and tomorrow is the day of despair. But even in despair, we must not give up. For on Sunday we will celebrate his triumph over death, in the sure and certain knowledge that we, too, will rise. Like the disciples, he has called us his friends, and we must watch with him, and “not fear, though the earth be moved, and the mountains shake.” (Psalm 46.2) We must watch and pray that the bond of charity may hold us firm as his friends, and friends of one another. The fruit of the vine is crushed in the press, but we shall drink the wine new with him in the joy of his risen kingdom. Thanks be to God.


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