Sunday afternoon I attended The Stations Of The Cross presentation at church. It was a reflective way to begin Holy Week! We experienced the walk to the cross, not in a sad way but in an assuring way. Luke 23: 43, Jesus responds to the thief beside him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." After Jesus took his last breath there was silence. My pastor challenged us, asking who we are in the crucifixion story.
Maundy Thursday is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Washing of the Feet and Last Supper of Jesus Christ. Maundy means command. It was on this day that Jesus commanded His disciples, John 13: 34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus brought the definition of love to a whole new level! He would sacrificially meet our deepest need - salvation. He loved His enemies, even those who turned against Him, beat Him, spat on Him, arrested Him. He calls us to show love to those who we feel don’t deserve it. Romans 5: 8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Most churches celebrate Holy Communion during Maundy Thursday service. During many services a pastor will read, 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” These traditions help us reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice. Each year I think about how Jesus was betrayed and how He would be crucified on Good Friday. He knew that and He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane
This week, as I have been preparing my heart for Easter, Holy Week has brought several things to mind. I have always thought about Jesus’ sacrifice but this year I have taken it a step further, to really think about His commandment for us to love and serve others. I have also thought a lot about the disciples and how they had no idea how deeply Jesus loved them. I, also, cannot comprehend how much He loves me. What Jesus offers this Holy Week is not an escape from loss but a hope. He taught us about love while on the cross. He provided for his mother while on the cross. He forgave His tormentors while on the cross. He loved you and I while on the cross.
A powerful part of Maundy Thursday is the Stripping of the altar which did not grow out of a liturgical decision. It actually developed because the altar guilds needed to strip the altar after Maundy Thursday in preparation for the bare, stark altar on Good Friday. People stayed after worship to observe this, and it was soon experienced as a powerful spiritual moment. Maundy Thursday ends with the starkness of the empty, bare altar, bringing a time of reflection and reverence.
At the end of many services Thursday night, altars will be stripped carefully and lovingly as the candelabra, cross, vessels, fine linens and paraments are removed. They strip the altar bare. What is left looks vulnerable. It feels a shame to see the altar that way. Our youth bring in the cross. We sit in silence. The lights are turned off. We depart in silence. In the silence, we contemplate, “who are we in the crucifixion story?”