March 14, 2018
On Maundy Thursday, we gather for the second service of Holy Week, which marks Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples prior to his arrest by the Jewish leaders. On this night, the apostle John recorded that Jesus washed his disciples' feet and gave his disciples the model for the Eucharist and a "new command" to love each other as Jesus loved them (John 13:34). Maundy is a word derived from the Latin which means "mandate" or "command."
Jesus takes on the position of a menial slave in the act of foot washing. This would have been unusual behavior for a rabbi at that time—a rabbi should have humility but never give up his station of superior authority. Jesus adorns himself as a slave and washes his disciples' feet in the manner of ancient hospitality. It was custom to wash the feet of one's guests before dinner when they had arrived from a long journey. Normally, disciples would have been the ones serving their master, but Jesus' behavior is different in order to show his disciples how his Kingdom has turned social norms upside down. And, he is preparing them for the greatest dinner of all.
For this is also the night that Jesus institutes the Eucharist, the meal we share as the family of God in remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross. That night Jesus and the disciples shared the Passover meal as the first family of the new Kingdom of God; this meal remembers the most important event in Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt. Many Jews of the first century were waiting for a Messiah who would lead a military and political takeover of Israel and reclaim it from Rome; they envisioned a second Exodus. Bread and wine play a significant role in the Passover meal, and during the Passover meal, there is much unleavened bread and wine consumed. The unleavened bread is called "the bread of affliction" to remind the Israelites of their suffering in Egypt and to remember how they left in such a hurry that there was no time to let the yeast rise before baking. There are five cups of wine integral to the Passover meal. There is varied interpretation, but generally, the first four cups correspond to the four terms God used to describe how he would deliver Israel from Egypt (Exod. 6:6-8)—literally, they are cups of salvation. The fifth cup of wine is left at the place set for Elijah, who it was hoped would return to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus connected for his disciples the hope for a second Exodus to the deliverance they would yet experience in his body's death and resurrection.
The church continues these practices today on Maundy Thursday. The foot washing after the reading of the Gospel and the sermon was a common practice by the fourth century AD. During the day, there is a ceremony to bless the holy oils used throughout the year. Finally, this is the last Eucharist meal consecrated until Easter Sunday. The priest consecrates elements for this service and enough bread for reserve Eucharist on Good Friday. Customarily, Maundy Thursday extends into an all-night prayer vigil, commemorating Jesus' request that his disciples stay up praying with him in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest.
The Maundy Thursday service invites us to allow Jesus into our whole lives. Jesus shows his tender love for us through the vulnerability of washing our feet. Jesus washes us of our sin through his broken body and his blood spilled out on the cross through the sacrament of Communion. This service is intensely embodied—we are invited to see, hear, and feel Jesus with us.
In the midst of a worship service it feels both bizarre and startlingly vulnerable to strip off our shoes and socks and place our feet in a basin of water. The foot washing portion of the service forces us to be exposed and vulnerable. It is in that place that we can receive healing and the fullness of the Lord Jesus' love for us.
In the Gospel reading for this service, the disciple Peter is indignant when Jesus asks to wash his feet. Either Peter does not want his Lord to stoop to such a lowly place, or he does not want to show Jesus his dirty feet (or both!). How easy it is to sympathize with Peter in this moment. But instead of appreciating Peter's concern for him, Jesus says, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me" (John 13:8).
Jesus displays his incredible humility and the fullness of his humanity—he is not above us or our bodies. Jesus became one of us, and a servant to us, in order that he might bring us into full relationship with God the Father—that we might share eternal life with him. Jesus' servanthood, seen in the washing of feet, is then fully realized in his death on the cross.
Join us Thursday, 3/29, at 7pm to experience the presence of Jesus at our Maundy Thursday service.
This is Part 3 of our "Peek into Holy Week" series. In the days leading up to Holy Week, we're taking time to prepare our hearts and minds so that we will be ready to hear the voice of the Lord. Read the next post about Stations of the Cross here.
March 14, 2018
Without Lent, Easter tends to catch us off guard. But after the forty-day pilgrimage in the wilderness, we are ready to keep the Easter feast, to exult with all our hearts that Jesus is alive. Inasmuch as Lent has been preparing us pilgrims for Easter, Easter has a way of preparing us for heaven. It does so by satisfying our hunger, strengthening our commitment, and restoring our soul. In short, Easter- including the “little Easters” of Sunday worship throughout the year- is a taste of heaven, made available now through the power of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is here. Come and see!
….Jesus has given us an open invitation to come to His house and be satisfied on Easter Sunday and beyond. That is why he referred to himself as the Bread of Life who satisfies our hunger and the Living Water who satisfies our thirst… Those who embrace the forty-day journey of Lent have done so because they trust Jesus is telling the truth about Himself: he is a feast for hungry people. And He was telling the truth about us: we are hungrier than we know. -from The Good of Giving Up, by Aaron Damiani
When I was in high school, my best friend and I spent a semester abroad. After our first few weeks of roaming starry-eyed through the streets of a new city, we noticed a distinct pattern to our walks. About 30 minutes in I would become hungry, and the walk would cease to be a lovely wandering and turn into a mission: find food. I quickly noticed that my friend did not seem to have the same pattern of hunger as myself. When I asked her about it, she laughed and told me that she rarely noticed hunger, and often missed meals because her body didn’t remind her it was hungry.
I was completely astounded, as hunger was almost an extension of my identity at the time. I could eat every few hours and still feel hungry for more food. As time has passed and my metabolism has slowed to a more regular pace, I have developed a better picture of how my friend could walk around with something other than the next pain au chocolat on her mind.
Every year, Lent gives me a chance to step back into my teenage relationship with hunger. This Lenten hunger is much deeper and broader than a simple desire for whatever I’m fasting from, though that is always the springboard. As I transform my daily routines through fasting, I find myself becoming aware of a whole ocean of hunger that lies just beneath the surface of my everyday distractions. The first few weeks of Lent, the hunger seems to be for more trivial things, like a change of pace or rest from an overloaded schedule. But as Lent progresses and Holy Week draws nearer, I begin to realize that the hunger is for something much more profound- it is for peace from sin and suffering. It is an unquenchable thirst for heaven and healing and wholeness; it is a hunger for nothing less than Jesus himself.
The problem, of course, is that my sinful nature wants to keep me from quenching that thirst. If I’m honest, the long weeks of Lent are not a triumphant exercise in replacing all of the things I’m fasting for with more Bible time and prayer. Instead, they are a long, agonizing reveal of how profound and deep-rooted my sins are, and how effectively those sins keep me from running to Jesus. I stumble along, wondering why I always struggle with depression this time of year and why these last few weeks of Lent inevitably find me wanting to escape to any location other than home and regular life. I’m parched and starving, stripped of my defense mechanisms through fasting, desperate for Living Water and the Bread of Life, and I still don’t have it within me to feast on Jesus.
This is why Easter will never fail to astound me. I find myself stumbling into Holy Week like a starved person, desperate for something I cannot buy for myself, and find a feast waiting for me. No matter how hungry I am, there is a fullness of joy waiting for me there that brings the satisfaction I could not find anywhere else. The truth of a Savior who knows my profound, helpless hunger and offers nothing less than Himself to satisfy it is the food I’ve been fasting for. I was indeed hungrier than I could ever know, and the taste of Heaven that is given at Easter is more satisfying than any meal I’ve ever had, even as a voracious teenager.
Prayerfully look over your Lent so far. As you’ve fasted, what hungers have been stirred in your soul?
Stop and bring those hungers before the Lord. What does he show you about their source?
If you are not feeling particularly hungry for Easter right now, what are some ways that you can finish your Lent by creating space for that hunger? Is there anything the Lord is asking you to give up in these final days of Lent?
Read the third post in our devotional series here.
Find more practical guidance as you walk through Lent in The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, a new book by Fr. Aaron Damiani, the rector of our church plant, Immanuel Anglican in Chicago.