Welcome to Maundy Thursday, our first holy day after Palm Sunday. Let us join together in prayer…
Crucified God! Guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover joy and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 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 shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” — Bernard of Clairvaux (Lyrics), Hans Leo Hassler and J. S. Bach (Music); performed by Altar of Praise Chorale (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown!
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered
was all for sinners’ gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve thy place.
Look on me with thy favor,
and grant to me thy grace.
What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this, thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee.
Hope, I recently heard it said, is anticipated joy. Its opposite — anxiety — is anticipated terror. As slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, the ancient Hebrews woke up every morning anticipating terror until, one day, God came and gave them hope.
To call today “Maundy Thursday” is to focus on the famous command Jesus gave to his disciples that fateful night before his betrayal. “I give you a new commandment,” he told them, “that you love one another.” In Latin, the word “commandment” is mandatum, hence Maundy Thursday. But the context of that new command was the Passover, and it shapes everything Jesus meant by love.
It’s hard to read the Passover account in Exodus 12 and not cringe. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night,” God tells his people, “and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals.” Without downplaying the terribleness of that event, for the ancient Hebrews God’s “passover” was a profound moment of salvation. They were finally going to be freed, delivered from their slavery by the very hand of God in order to experience communion with him.
No wonder the Passover was not seen as a solemn celebration but instead a joyful one. Indeed, when Jesus and his disciples came into Jerusalem to celebrate it that night before he was betrayed, it would have been a wonderful time of anticipation, too. Things were happening. Jesus was gaining followers. The whole world, John tells us in his Gospel, had come out to greet their new Messiah and march with him into Jerusalem. It would seem the stage was set for something big. Anticipation was sky high. The people were being led to expect a second “passover” when God would deliver them once more, this time from under the Roman boot.
But, Jesus had a much different understanding of deliverance and the hope that was needed. According to the Apostle Paul, that night sitting around the table with his disciples, Jesus took some bread and a glass of wine and transformed the Passover celebration of a past event into a hopeful anticipation of a future one. “This is my body that is broken for you,” he said, “and this is my blood that is shed.” Here, on Maundy Thursday, we’re already looking toward Good Friday and the death of our Lord. Again, a firstborn son is the cost, but this time it’s God’s own.
The theologian Jürgen Moltmann once described the cross as the moment when God “humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” That’s the very definition of love, and it’s the heart of joy.
Just as it was for Jesus’ disciples on that night when he was betrayed, so it is for us tonight. We have come again to anticipate joy. This past year has brought an unimaginable amount of anxiety and terror, but tonight we remember that throughout it all we were never alone. God entered into it and suffered it right alongside of us. And Sunday we celebrate the fact that he also defeated it, and in doing so, gave us all an eternal hope.
Crucified and Suffering God, wash us today, and make us clean. Heal us, and make us holy. Strengthen us, and make us loving. Meet us, and make us hopeful. Amen.
– Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1991), 276.