For most Protestants, the key Holy Week Moments are Maundy Thursday and Easter, with Good Friday possibly added in (perhaps in a community service). Maundy Thursday sets the tone for the remainder of the journey to Easter. We join Jesus in the Upper Room, share a meal with him and his disciples that has its roots in the Passover Celebration. From the supper Jesus goes out into the Garden with his disciples, shares in prayer and possibly a final time of teaching before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.
In the readings set before us by David Ackerman in his Beyond the Lectionary, we see things from a different perspective than we normally do on this evening. So, in the reading from John that is contained in this passage we hear a disconcerting message -- in that the term Maundy derives from the word mandate that remembers that Jesus has given us a new commandment -- to love one another -- in this portion of the reading from John 15, Jesus tells us that his followers, like him, will be the objects of hate. In the reading from Exodus we read teh rest of the story -- not the institution of the meal, but God's act of vengeance on the first born of the people of Egypt. Finally, there's the reading from 1 Corinthians -- a passage that brings into our conversation the Lord's Supper -- and the danger of abusing it by failing to discern the body. What is that body? Is it not the community that gathers in the presence of Christ? Herein are some thought-provoking texts and worship materials. If you're Maundy Thursday service is already planned, perhaps you can at the very least meditate upon the texts, worship materials, and questions.
“Discern the Body”
Call to Worship: Psalm 69:19-21 NRSV
One: You know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonor; my foes are all known to you.
Many: Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.
One: I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
Many: They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Gathering Prayer: We come together in this holy time to remember how you shared your final meal with your disciples. As we feel your Spirit moving among us, help us to know that you have not abandoned us but are with us, even as this night falls upon us.
Confession: This day, our Shepherd has been stricken and we, like sheep, have all scattered. Our fear has gotten the better of our faith, and we have run for our lives. We’d like to think that we’re better than the people were back then, and that we’d stand with Jesus in his hour of trial. But we have to confess that we’re no better than our ancestors in faith. We have turned our backs on injustice when we should have stood up for what was right. Forgive us, God. Give us the courage we need to face this hour of testing.
Assurance: God knows our weakness and vulnerability, and in the anguish of our sins, God turns to us, forgives us, and gives us the gift of new life through our Savior, Jesus.
Commentaries and sermon ideas may be found in Beyond the Lectionary.
Scriptures: Exodus 11:1-5; 12:29-36 – “Summary of the Passover”
1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34 – “On the Lord’s Supper”
John 15:18-25 – “They Hated Me”
- What stood out for you when you read the story from Exodus today? What do you think Christians learn more deeply about Holy Communion when they connect it with the story and meal of the Passover?
- What do you make of the comment about the vinegar in Psalm 69:21?
- Based on today’s reading in 1 Corinthians 11, what do you think the meal of Holy Communion would have looked like in first century Corinth? What were some of the issues that they were struggling with then? What do you think it means to “discern the body”? Does anyone fully understand what happens during Holy Communion? Should children be excluded from Communion? Should anyone? Who and why?
- What do you make of the world’s hatred of Jesus in John 15? Have you ever felt that the world was against you? What was that like? Might thinking about Jesus’ rejection help us in those times?
- How spiritually disciplined have you been during this Lenten season? Have you failed in any way? What are some of the most meaningful ways that you observe Holy Week?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: Thank you, God, for changing our cries of anger into sighs of relief. Thank you also for changing our wails of anguish into shouts of joy. And thank you for delivering us from the powers of evil and death this day and always.
Benediction: Having been nourished by our Savior, Jesus, let us go now and share God’s good news with a world that longs for real mercy and genuine love. Amen.