Maunday Thursday Vesper Meditation
Good evening and welcome to our Maundy Thursday Vespers. It seems that every year I have at least one individual ask me what the word “Maundy” means. It comes from the Latin and means commandment, recalling in the Gospel of John how Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” We will get back to that command in just a moment but briefly, I want us to remember that meal. It was the Passover meal. Today we use the term Seder to describe it. Passover is one of the most important religious holidays in the Jewish year. The celebration centers around a meal used to tell a story of how God had delivered the Jewish people from slavery. The story is not just a look back to a miraculous historic event but to teach the young and remind all of how God has been active and remains active in their lives.
There are rituals with this meal. The youngest present begins the activities by asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights? From that question flows the story of how the people of Israel escaped the angel of death who had been sent to kill all the firstborn of Egypt. They recall how their ancestors spread the blood of a lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their homes so the angel would pass over. How they had to eat unleavened bread and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. There are special foods to recall their time in slavery, bitter herbs dipped in saltwater for the bitterness of their captivity and the tears they shed. Food that looks like the mortar used to build the great buildings of pharaoh. There are many prayers and much wine is shared. All of these rituals are used to remind the participants that God loved and cared for the people of Israel and saved them. But even more to celebrate how God is still active in their lives.
People ate in large family groups so even though we see so many pictures of the last supper depicting Jesus with just the 12 disciples it is likely that a much larger group gathered. Friends of Jesus, the women who traveled with him and the family of the house where it was held were all likely present. There may even have been children running around. And they would have reclined on the floor. Tables at this time were low things and you laid on the floor on cushions with your feet out behind you. Yes, a little different from what we see pictured in most of our famous pictures of this event. It was a joyous and yet holy time.
Now let me read John: 13:34-35. Think about what this means within the context of this night. They had been eating and feasting as they celebrated God’s love for them. In sharing this new commandment Jesus was connecting his love and coming sacrifice with the love of God. He was reminding us all that we too are to be living reminders of how much God loves the world by our actions. This night, above all nights, is a time to pledge anew to love others as Jesus would love. In these times it means social distancing, wearing face masks, washing frequently, staying home and more. It means calling and emailing those we love. We are to love as Jesus loves us.
Just before this commandment, Jesus broke the rules. He changed the liturgy. He paused and took some bread. The bread he used was unleavened, but I chose to make a baked loaf. He broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you.” Then he took one of the cups of wine and blessed it and said, drink from this, all of you, for this cup is the cup of the new covenant. Do this in remembrance of me.
And so we gather to remember that meal, its message of sacrifice, love and forgives. We gather as we were commanded, to remember this night but also to pledge to follow Jesus’ commands to love.
Let us pray:
God of life and hope we thank you that you were able to share this holy meal with your disciples. In it, you have blessed all who follow you down through the ages to this very night. For your love for us, we give you thanks. Amen.
I pray God’s blessings on you this evening and I hope you join me tomorrow night as we recall the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Good Night.