Holy Week – COVID Thursday meditation – “Maundy?” – Brad Jersak
Holy Week Thursday
As “the hour” of Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion approaches, we remember the events of “Maundy Thursday,” memorializing especially the details of Last Supper. And we recall John’s unique account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) set the Last Supper on Passover Seder, the feast of unleavened bread, commemorating the Jews’ speedy exodus from bondage in Egypt. They left so quickly there was no time for the bread to rise.
Christ institutes “the Lord’s Table” or “Eucharist” at this meal. He breaks the bread, saying, “This is my body,” and pours the wine, saying, “This is my blood.” He then asks the disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.”
In John’s Gospel, aside from a long last will and testament, the major event of the evening is the foot-washing. Considering how Christ commands his disciples to imitate him in this sign of servant-love, it’s a little surprising it didn’t become a sacrament as we see with communion or baptism.
To me, one of the most intriguing questions concerning the Last Supper is whether Judas was included in the meal, despite Jesus’ knowledge of his betrayer. I’m also bemused by the zeal of interpreters who deny his participation. Here are the key texts:
- Matthew 26:20-27 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
- Mark 14:18-23 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
- John 13:18-13 18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
As I read these passages, I am convinced Jesus offered Judas his body and blood, both in the mystery of the Eucharist and in the historic events to follow. The invitation for all to dine with Christ was not withdrawn, the offer of mercy to all was never retracted and even the intimacy of dipping bread together is too significant for John to omit. Yes, even Judas received the cup of salvation. And if even Judas, then perhaps even me.
Whenever my lips touch the communion chalice, I pray that it would not be like Judas’ kiss of betrayal, but rather, like the thief on the cross I pray, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Why “Maundy” Thursday
I’ve never really thought much about why some traditions refer to Holy Thursday as “Maundy Thursday.” What does Maundy even mean? It turns out Maundy is derived from the Latin word for “command.” What command does Christ deliver on Maundy Thursday?
- 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
For some believers, the word “command” is a trigger word. It sounds too much like “works” and some have even dared to reject these words as “Old Covenant religion” because they were uttered before the Cross. NO. To be Christian is to take up our cross and follow Christ. To follow means more than correctly confessing a man-made doctrinal statement and calling that “belief.” Many who parrot the words, “Lord, Lord” will be surprised that Christ doesn’t recognize them.
Authentic salvation is infused into our lives as transforming grace. It is a living connection that Jesus says is manifest in the imitation of his self-giving love. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. It’s a command. And that’s what’s so Maundy about Thursday.
Today, we give thanks for those who face rather than flee the challenge of COVID-19. Essential services and medical teams demonstrate very real and risky sacrificial care for neighbors and strangers alike. They imitate the cruciform love of Jesus, whether they identify with his story or not. Their lives show us a true confession that puts to shame the words-only faith of many a modern-day “Christian.” Lord, grant me the grace to follow the Jesus Way of love in these dire days.