By Paul Koch –
“Why is this night different from all other nights?”
People tell us that this is “Maundy Thursday,” but what the hell does “Maundy” mean and how does a Thursday become Maundy? Well, as it turns out “Maundy” comes from the Latin Mandatum which is translated a “commandment” or “mandate” which in turn is born of our Lord’s words from that Thursday night so long ago when he said to his gathered disciples, “A new commandment I give you, love one another, as I have loved you so you must love one another.”
On this night our Lord would move from the upper room out into the night air to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. It is in the garden that his soul is grieved to the point of a bloody sweat, it is in the garden that he confesses the terror of what is coming, as he prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And it is in that garden that Judas betrays the Son of Man with a kiss. And so this night marks a point of turning for our Lord, a night where his face is set firmly towards the cross, a night that marks the quick abandonment of all those who knew and loved him even Peter, whose heart is torn as he denies him three times.
But before he heads out to the garden to meet his captures, before he enters into that grueling prayer to his Father, our Lord gives to his disciples his last will and testament. It is a command of the same love that caused him to wash his disciple’s feet, a command that is to be faithfully carried out after his death. It is a handing on of his gracious love that would define the church’s gathering from the days of St. Paul to our own day. And so Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and aid, ‘This is my body which is for you.’”
It is on this night that our Lord gave to his church his Holy Supper. He takes that great Passover feast with all its importance and tradition and transforms it. This meal that was a cause of remembrance for God’s people became for the church a meal of present day blessing. The Passover which looked back to God’s gracious deliverance and saving works became now a proclamation for his life giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. So Paul reminds us that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the lord’s death until he comes.” This eating and drinking in accordance with his Word is a proclamation of everything that night was leading up to. A proclamation of his selfless love, a proclamation of his willingness to drink the cup of wrath that was destine for us.
Now this gift is not just a one-time gift, something that we simply look back to and remember fondly when we get around to it. Jesus did not institute another Passover meal, no this is a continued and ongoing blessing of God.
Just as his proclamation goes on in the church so his gift of body and blood continues to be handed over. This ongoing presence of Christ body and blood in the Supper is why Paul warns about abuses. To misremember a historical event is one thing; to misuse an actual present gift is much more problematic. To take a gift of Christ’s meritorious death and resurrection and use it for division or to shame others, or to empty it of its true value and speak of it as only an empty symbol, is a dangerous path.
But when we come in faith, when we come as empty handed sinners, when we come broken and begging knowing that there is no worthiness within us to be able claim anything for ourselves and all we can do is hold fast to his Words why then, then we receive something beyond our wildest dreams. We receive all the merits of our Lord, all his suffering and life giving death become ours, not by right or ritual but by his grace alone. Here he feeds you his own body and blood; here forgiveness is proclaimed into your hearts as he is placed into you mouths.
On this night our Lord was betrayed, on this night he was bound and led into an unjust trial. On this night the final events that led to his death are set in motion. On this night he took ordinary bread and wine and gave a gift that would change the world. Here is forgiveness for you, here in with and under the bread and wine are the gifts of life everlasting and they are here for you.