MLP: Maundy Thursday

Mormon Lectionary Project

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-141 Corinthians 11:23-26John 13:1-17, 31b-35Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 3 Nephi 18:1-9

The Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he died, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in this holy ordinance gives us a pledge of eternal life. Holiness to the Lord. Amen.

On Palm Sunday our direction was turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week — the apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus destroys it himself. Note the tearing of the veil at his death.

The Last Supper makes this clear. For many Christians, the Last Supper seems to have made Jesus into a kind of Dionysus in which by eating his flesh we become joined to the god in a mysterious union. This is true on one level, and like all good myths and their ritual enactments, there are levels of meaning here. The Last Supper was the last supper of many similar meals, and it is Jesus’ social eating prior to the Passion that offers insight into how Jesus used food and feasting to drive a message of love and inclusion. His fellowship at meals was frequently criticised (Matt 11:19) because it broke Jewish purity laws when he sat down with “tax agents and sinners.” That Jesus of Nazareth tried to break down the social and ritual barriers that separated people is well-known, but we ought not to ignore this mission when he comes to Jerusalem, overwhelmed as we are by the grandeur of Holy Week.

Jesus’ view of purity ran perpendicular to that of the Jewish authorities. His cleansing of the temple was an act of aggression against the corruption of the Jewish elite. From that moment on, he was doomed. Then he went further, saying over the bread and the wine in the upper room that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Read both in companion with the temple incident and Jesus’ history with food, he did not only mean, “here is my body, here is my blood” referring solely to symbols of his own flesh, but rather that, as Bruce Chilton suggests, “these . . . were his substitute sacrifices, replacing the blood and flesh of animals being sacrificed at the Temple” [1].

The Last Supper was thus another rejection of the Jewish temple as it was presently governed and all the notions of purity and elite sociality that it represented. Jesus replaces all this priestcraft with a communal fellowship of love. If this interpretation is right, remember this when you next take the sacrament: It is not really the emblems that are holy and they themselves are not simply symbols of an absent Christ; instead, it is the ritual partaking of this festal meal with friends and family, regardless of status, that is the real “remembrance” of Jesus’ body. As the Book of Common Prayer states, “The Lord is here,” but not in the bread and wine, but in the bread and wine partaken by the faithful. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes all of this clear: In chapter 11 he tells us that bread is Christ’s body, in chapter 12 he tells us that this body is the community of Christians.

This then is the new temple, built in three days: The loving fellowship of believers. As he goes to the Cross this prophetic enactment reaches its crescendo. No longer the blood of a lamb in the temple but the Blood of the Lamb who will say “Father, forgive” and require his followers to do the same.

O Light born of light
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
Mercifully deem us worthy
To offer prayers and praise.

You who once deigned to become flesh
For the sake of your lost ones,
Grant that we become members
Of your holy Body.

[1] “What Jesus did at the Last Supper” in Jesus: the Last Day (Biblical Archaeology Society).

Comments

  1. melodynew says:

    Thank you. God bless, RJH.

  2. “The Last Supper was thus another rejection of the Jewish temple as it was presently governed and all the notions of purity and elite sociality that it represented. Jesus replaces all this priestcraft with a communal fellowship of love.”

    Wonderful. Excellent. Thanks.

  3. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, Ronan. I love your emphasis on the social and communal aspects of our participation in the sacrament.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Moving and subversive. Thank you for the excellent post.

    I also like Maundy Thursday because this is the day the oil is blessed.

  5. This really brought it together for me. I loved this: “St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes all of this clear: In chapter 11 he tells us that bread is Christ’s body, in chapter 12 he tells us that this body is the community of Christians.”

  6. >Moving and subversive.

    Oh, I do hope so!

  7. RJH, situating holy week around the temple and the holy meal has prompted new insight for me this season. Appreciate it.

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