Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday.  The term Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum novarum, which means, "a new commandment."  It is a reference to John 13:34-35, where Jesus says to His disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (NRSV)  -  This, of course, takes place on the Thursday prior to Jesus' crucifixion.  It is in the larger context of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

This is also the time when our Lord instituted the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  This sacrament is known by a number of names emphasizing various aspects of the sacrament. 

It is referred to as Holy Communion.  The Greek word, here, is koinonia.  It is a word that speaks of fellowship, communion, participation and sharing.  In connection with the sacrament we find it in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, where St. Paul says, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (NRSV) / participation (NIV) / communion (KJV) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  -  And so, in the sacrament, more than just remembering what Christ has done (though we certainly do that), we really and truly commune with the blood and body of Christ.  -  Verse 17 indicates we also have fellowship around the Table with our sisters and brothers in Christ.  As the invitation in the Nazarene ritual indicates, ". . . we are one, at one table with the Lord."

The sacrament is also often referred to as the Eucharist.  This term will be familiar to most who read this blog, but for many in evangelical circles, this is often an unfamiliar term.  It is, therefore, treated with suspicion by some and outright condemnation by still others!  Nevertheless, such suspicions (and certainly condemnations!) can be put aside when we realize that this term, unlike the others, is actually found in all four New Testament accounts of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; and 1 Cor. 11:23-26).  You see, the Greek word eucharistein simply means "to be thankful."  The sacrament, and the major prayer for it in the liturgy is understood as "the Great Thanksgiving."  -  Jesus took, gave thanks, (broke the bread), and gave the sacramental elements to the disciples.

The New Testament also refers to the sacrament by simply speaking of "the breaking of the bread."  For example, in Acts 2:42 we hear those famous words, "(The disciples) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."  -  Unfortunately, many have misunderstood this to mean nothing more than the disciples committing themselves to having pot luck meals together, when, instead, what is being referred to is the holy sacrament.

This raises the point that the New Testament Church was committed to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  "Day by day," Luke tells us (in Acts 2:46), ". . . they spent much time together in the temple . . ." (Service of the Word), and ". . . they broke bread from house to house . . ." (Service of the Table).  St. Paul chastises the Church at Corinth when he says, "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20).  In other words, when they come together it was supposed to be to eat the Lord's Supper.  -  Such seems to be the apostle's understanding of Jesus' instructions.  Such is the pattern of the New Testament Church.  It is the pattern of the Early Church.  It is the pattern of the Church throughout the ages.  And, for us Wesleyans, it was our spiritual forefather's instruction that we should celebrate the sacrament every Lord's Day.

Why?  -  Is it because of some legalistic command?  Do we have to do it like that?  Won't it lose it's specialness?  -  No, no, no!  That's missing the point altogether!  -  Instead, we gather at the Table of the Lord, when we gather together in the name of the Lord, because He has explicitly promised to meet us at the Table!  It is at the Table that we have the explicit promise of communing/sharing/participating in the body and blood of our Lord!  God's grace is poured out to us through this holy gift!  -  Thanks be to God!

"Listen" to the wonderful words of this Wesley Eucharistic Hymn:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.

2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.

3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.

4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.

5. Here all Thy blessings we receive,
Here all Thy gifts are given,
To those that would in Thee believe,
Pardon, and grace, and heaven.

6. Thus may we still in Thee be blest,
Till all from earth remove,
And share with Thee the marriage feast,
And drink the wine above.

Thanks be to our God!