Maundy Thursday 2019
Jerry Van Marter
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
Luke 22: 14-23
So, what does “Maundy” Thursday mean, anyway? The root Latin word is “mande,” from which we get the words “mandate” or “command.” Thus, Maundy Thursday is the “Night of the Commandment.”
What is the Commandment? All four gospels record the Last Supper, but only in John’s gospel is the commandment explicitly stated (chapter 13, verse 34): “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
This is covenantal language: an agreement, hearkening back to God’s covenant with Abraham, that is sacred and eternal, that must not be broken. Indeed, the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper in all four gospels refer to their meal together as covenantal.
In time, in the early church, the meaning of the Lord’s Supper came to be interpreted in sacrificial terms as Jesus’ atonement for sin. Though Jesus’ life was one of sacrifice, Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper was governed by Passover, not as atonement for sin. The lamb sacrificed for sin was another Hebrew ritual. Passover was very forward-looking: a big feast for the family to eat together after it had already packed up for the journey to the promised land.
So those who share in this covenantal meal are joined to one another, joined together in the journey that lies ahead. We are bound together in and by this meal as together, as community, as a covenantal family we seek to follow Jesus into a future we cannot know except for the destination: life eternal in and with Christ.
And this is a covenant held out to and for us all. In Luke’s gospel, the identification of Judas as the betrayer comes AFTER the meal. Judas, along with the other 11, partook in the meal. This is typical, as Jesus shared meals and extended forgiveness to all manner of sinners: the prodigal, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the adulterers, the crucifiers, and the dying thief on the cross next to him.
Judas’ sin was not so much that he betrayed Jesus, though that would be sin enough. We won’t get into whether Judas was merely an agent of God’s will. No, Judas’ sin was that AFTER sharing in the covenantal meal in that Upper Room, he immediately broke the covenant to “love one another even as I have loved you.”
This is the real danger – not that we won’t sin, but that in our sinning we break the covenant, the command of Jesus that we love one another. Because of this Last Supper, no meal among Jesus followers is just a meal, because no loaf is just bread and no cup is just wine. All these meals are signs of our commitment to keep the covenant – to love and follow Jesus Christ and to love one another, even as he has loved us.
May it be so. Amen.