Maundy Thursday ~ 1999

Exodus 12:1-14; I Corinthians 11:23-28; John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Notes:  The Maundy Thursday readings are particularly poignant in light of the fact that Thursday April 1st is the first day of Passover for our Jewish friends.  This year would be an especially good time to look at our roots as Abraham's "children of faith" (See. Rom.4:12). This can strengthen our identity as God's people.  We are as surely the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Jesus was. ("The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus." Acts 3:13)

One of the amazing things about the Jewish community has been its strong identity and sense of heritage even though they did not have a physical Nation-State for over two millennia. Perhaps the identity of Christian folk would be strengthened if we were to "plug-in" more fully to our Hebrew roots. At a minimum, we acknowledge that it is quite difficult to understand the New Testament fully if we do not understand the Old.  The relationship between the Passover, The Upper Room and the Lord's Supper in our readings can put our congregations more fully in touch with the amazing events of Holy Thursday.

Bible Trivia:   Here's a bit of trivia to emphasize the significance of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) in proportion to the whole bible.  Out of 66 books, 39 are O.T. and 27 N.T.  But this doesn't really show the difference.  There are 1390 (more or less) pages in the O.T. and 403 pages in the N.T.  Overall, the bible contains approximately 7 million words.  (The IRS code has 10 million!)  The N.T. has something like 1.57 million of these words while the O.T. has 5.42 million.  The church in our time may unwittingly be a bit Marcionite in practice.

Suggestion for Shaping the Service:  We plan to combine a celebration of the Eucharist with footwashing and an extinguishing of 12 candles representing the desertion of Jesus by his disciples.

You will need:  12 Candles,  A Christ Candle, 12 Readers, 12 volunteers for footwashing  (If necessary, you can use the 12 reader for the footwashing)  Divide the readings from Exodus, I Corinthians and John into 12 sections. Basin, pitcher, towels for footwashing.  Persons involved in footwashing need to wear slippers.

Outline:  Outline your service, or follow your worship book as desired.  Then:

1. Readings and Footwashing:  [Prior to beginning this section, have an acolyte come from the rear of the sanctuary to light the twelve candles which are used in this portion of the service.]  First reader reads the first scripture selection and then extinguishes one of 12 candles.  (Sanctuary should be dim -- candles may be in a circle on a table -- candles represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and the twelve disciples who abandoned the Lord.) Reader will either go into the congregation and be seated -- or if also involved in footwashing, will go to chair where their feet are washed. (Link on footwashing)

While 1st reader is reading the scripture and extinguishing the 1 st candle, the Pastor washes the feet of the first volunteer.  (If using readers as persons who are doing footwashing, the reader does the reading, extinguishes the candle and then goes to the place set apart for footwashing and sits while pastor washes the feet and dries with a towel.)  The person who had their feet washed now assumes the position of the servant who does the footwashing when the 2nd reader extinguishes the 2nd candle. (Continue with 3rd through 12th candle)

A prayer may be offered when the 12 candles are extinguished.  Then leave a time of silence and personal reflection.  Then have an acolyte light the Christ Candle.  (Perhaps in the center of the 12 candles)

2. Meditation:   See below for meditation on I Corinthians Reading.

3. Holy Communion:  As usual for your tradition.

"Do This,  Remember Me,  Examine Yourself"

Many of you likely remember a time when there were no nursing homes or retirement and extended care facilities.  People tended to live for a long time in one geographical location and even occupied the same family home for generations. I lived in a small town in Vermont during my high school years and there was a beautiful, enormous  house near the center of town that everybody called "The Smythe Home".  Some people named Nelson lived in the house when I was there and another family named Richardson before them.  I asked a friend, "Why do they call that the Smythe Home?"

"Old Mr. Smythe's grandfather built that house and the Smythe's lived in it until about ten years ago when Mr. Smythe died."

All the Smythe's lived in the Smythe home and most of them died there.  All across the land family homes like this are a vanishing breed. Instead of visiting an ailing grandmother in her room, we see her Sunday afternoons at the nursing home.  And by and large, that's probably a good thing. (Or is it?) Along with the disappearance of these "family homes", there has been a real decreasing sense of connection or roots in many people's lives.

Perhaps you have had the good fortune of being a part of a family where mom and dad and the children and grandparents and sometimes even great grandparents gathered for celebrations like Thanksgiving.  Can you remember as a child, listening to the adults -- especially the older ones tell stories of days gone by?  It was as though you were surrounded by the care and warmth and love of generations past -- and yet, it was as though those ancestors of long ago were with you there in the warmth of those family gatherings.


There is a very special sense in which we are surrounded by generations past this evening.  The family that encircles us is the family of faith.  Our roots go back almost 35 hundred years.  Our cousins in the Judeo-Christian tradition celebrate the first day of Passover today. Generations have come and gone, but if we open our ears of faith tonight, we can hear in the distant past the footsteps of our forebearers tramping out of Egypt toward a long sought freedom.

As Christians, we celebrate the institution of what we call Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is almost two thousand years ago that Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover just before he was arrested, tried and executed. If we open our spirits, we may hear the shouts of those who loved this Christ so long ago, "Hosanna!  Glory to God in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

We are surrounded by our Jewish brothers and sisters who call Abraham, "Father" -- and by Peter, James and John who called Jesus, "Lord." -- and wonderfully, by our mothers and father and grandfathers and grandmothers who came to this church and remembered the Lord and received Holy Communion -- and passed it all on to us.  What a rich heritage we have as we gather tonight with the whole Communion of Saints!


It was so very long ago that Moses led God's people out of Egypt and began that long, arduous journey toward the Promised Land. When they finally reached their home after a long wilderness journey, the twelve children of Jacob (called Israel) found a place they could call home. The twelve candles we lit tonight represent the twelve children of Israel.

Something like 1500 years after Moses led his people out of the slavery of Egypt, Jesus gathered his twelve closest followers to remember and celebrate the Passover Moses had given to the

On this night so long ago, something very powerful happened. Jesus took the Passover meal and instituted something that would bind his followers together for all time and eternity.  He broke bread and said, "This is my body for you."  Then he took wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood for you."

There is no possible way they could have understood the incredible implications of this.  The age old Passover became the Holy Communion of God's new children -- every person of every tongue and every color and every tribe on this planet -- who would come to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.

In our Epistle reading from I Corinthians, St. Paul asks us to do three things:

1. "Do this."  That is:   Eat the bread and drink the wine."

2. "Remember me." Call the Lord Jesus and his sacrifice to mind.

3. "Examine yourselves" The essential question here is, "How is it in my relationship with Jesus Christ?"  Paul says, "Don't take communion until you ask and deal with this question."

Amazingly, Jesus would find himself absolutely abandoned by his closest friends. One would betray him, one would deny him, and all of them would flee when the greatest crisis of his earthly life came.  If it were you and me, I honestly have to wonder if I would give my life for such a group!

But you see... that is the wonderful, incredible thing about the love of God. Nothing can make God not love us!   Did you get that?  Nothing you can do can make God not love you!

If it only were true that you and I could love that way.  But we don't. The twelve candles extinguished represent the twelve closest followers of Jesus leaving him to be crucified alone.  May God save us all from ever having to endure such a trial. I sometimes wonder -- would I also flee?  The marvelous thing about God's amazing, unconditional love is that even if I should  crumble under such pressure, God would love me still! 

Even though the twelve candles are extinguished -- namely the twelve disciples fail Jesus -- when the Christ candle in the center is lit, we are reminded that the love of God for you and me burns in the heart of the Lord forever!

May we be encouraged tonight as we are surrounded by all the saints of all the ages who have heard the voice of God and followed wherever that voice would lead.  May God give us courage and inspiration to continue on the way so that our children and  their children after them will have a strong sense of "family of faith tradition" as they gather on an evening such as this.