Favorite holiday: Maundy Thursday!

One of my favorite holidays is Maundy Thursday. Not only because on this day at the latest the long weekend started, but also because it was an evening service – nearly as festive, dramatic and emotional as Christmas. Obviously, I don´t have as many childhood memories of this holiday as of the latter. It was after all a very churchly event – starting off with the official registration in the pastor´s office at his home during the previous week or if You were not able to make that, then a timely visit in the sacristy just before the public confessional started would do…

Most communicants were dressed in their finest black outfits – for men that included black ties, socks and shoes, sometimes hats. In the Southern hemisphere this was autumn and it could be chilly enough to wear a coat even.  Church would start punctually as ever with the urgent tolling of the bells calling the last stragglers to get their last smoke done and into the pews. The vestments were all white, the flowers magnificent and the organ would sound the start of the serious part…

Tonight, we´re but a little bunch – not even 12 (or 13) as at the introductory meal. It will be more like during the institution of the Passover (Sermon text Ex.12,1-14) some centuries earlier, where every family – or as many as needed to eat the prepared lamb – would gather on their own, girded and ready for the exodus from slavery. Bitter herbs to remember the hardships of the forced labor and servitude. Unleavened bread as there was no time to go into the lengthy business of sourdough and such luxuries.

The latter cup of thanksgiving to celebrate that the cup of wrath had passed us, and that God had accepted the vicarious sacrifice of the paschal lambs instead, sparing us the well-deserved punishment and rather granting us his favor + for Christ´s sake +  His holy body given for us into death, so that we might live + His precious blood shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sins and that now He would flourish in us, nurture and vitalize us – just like the vine would invigorate its branches.

You see, the Lord´s Supper celebrated by the Christian Church was instituted in the framework of the Passover, but it was an innovation of our Lord, who instituted this – His sacramental Supper – in the night of his betrayal as something uniquely Christological and Soteriological. Not just an act of rememberance, but one of deliverance and justification too. He was not spared but gave himself willingly for us – vicariously – in our stead – for our salvation (Nicene Creed).

So, we Lutherans follow St. Paul´s setting for the unique Lord´s Supper as he too received it – and not as if it was a later adaptation of an ongoing Jewish rite as the Heidelberg Catechism would make us believe.  Instead Dr. Martin Luther summarizes it succinctly in answering the question: What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

“The Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

Martin Luther: Small Catechism V,1

He´s got the holy apostle´s and world missionary´s backing, who writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians in the eleventh chapter:  

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1.Corinthians 11:23-26

St. Paul uses this central liturgical quotation in his argument for unity in the congregation and against the awful divisions and separations due to identarian criteria – like economics, social standing and other ideologies.  The gospel lesson from St. John´s gospel on Jesus´ washing of his disciples feet (John 13,1-15.34-35) gives further credence and logical support to his theological argument. St. Paul concludes:

For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment. I will give directions about other matters when I come…

1.Corinthians 11:27-34

Let us sing God´s praises with Dr. Martin Luther and in unanimity with the Christian Church:

1. O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee, and adore Thee,
In thanksgiving bow before Thee.
Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish
Our weak souls that they may flouish:
O Lord, have mercy!
May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry,
And Thy blood for us plead
In all trial, fear, and need:
O Lord, have mercy!

2. Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;
May this feast thereof remind us!
O Lord, have mercy!
Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee
That Thy blood should bless and sustain me.
All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made:
O Lord, have mercy.

3. May God bestow on us His grace and favor
To please Him with our behavior
And live as brethren here in love and union
Nor repent this blest Communion!
O Lord, have mercy!
Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us;
Grant that heavenly-minded He make us;
Give Thy Church, Lord, to see
Days of peace and unity:
O Lord, have mercy!

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Let us pray:

Lord God, of Your fatherly mercy You spared not Your only Son but gave him up to death and the cross. Send Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may be comforted by this grace, henceforth be on guard aainst sin, and patiently bear whatever You send us to suffer, that through Him we may live for ever with You.

Dobberstein Pg.87

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Gedankensplitter, Gottesdienst, Hymns, Lent, Lieder, Lutheran Order of service, Old Latin School in Wittenberg and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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