Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday
01 April 2021
“A New Mandate”
St. John 13.1-15,34-35; 1 Corinthians 11.23-32; Exodus 12.1-14
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ☩ Christ; Amen.
Our service this evening is commonly called “Maundy Thursday” in English. The word “Maundy,” is an abbreviated transliteration of the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the English word “mandate.” This word is found in our Gospel text this evening, where Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you,” or mandate, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our Paschal Victim here issues us the mandate to follow His example, to love one another with the same sacrificial love He is displaying for us; here this is displayed by He the king humbly washing the feet of we the mere servants. But ultimately, although we are free to reenact this washing, He is calling us to His love fulfilled on the Cross; that Cross which looms over us this evening, and indeed, forevermore.
What we gather together to celebrate tonight should never be seen as disconnected from the following services on Good Friday and up through Easter. There will be no Benediction at the close of this service, because this service will truly only be concluded when that blessing is delivered on Easter. This is why we call these three feast days the “Triduum,” which is Latin for “three days,” for this new mandate Jesus gives tonight is not for tonight only, but carries on through these three holy days and is on the books forever.
This mandate to love one another is given in the Law of old, yet it can only be understood and properly followed if one looks forward, and looks to where it is located in this holy Triduum. For what, pray tell, does this mandate actually mean for us? Jesus here is not giving you a new law like that of Sinai, one that is designed to crush you and reveal to you your sin and weakness and absolute insignificance—although it can do that. No, this mandate can only be understood by the Cross which looms over our heads. For although we are to remember, and to some degree reenact, Jesus’ Passion these three days, we do so with a sense of dramatic irony. We know with certainty what the apostles could only hope and pray for at the time; we know that even though the Jews maliciously desired His death, they accidentally participated in a good thing; we know that Jesus is acting completely deliberately and intentionally, by His own power, and that our hope and joy is on His Cross. In His betrayal by the kiss of Judas, by His interrogation, beating, mocking, scourging, and death, we reflect with empathy and sobriety and sorrow, yet ultimately, we recall it all with joy. Tonight, His altar will be stripped naked, yet He will never be stripped from you. No one is asking you to forget the reality of your salvation when we celebrate with solemnity what our Lord really and viscerally suffered in His flesh, and Jesus too proclaims this with the very institution of this day.
For what was instituted today? The Apostle recalls our Lord’s mandate in this way: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” here is your new command, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread.” This evening, Jesus does not give you a new law, but He gives you a new gift. For this night, the Lord Jesus hands Himself over to be betrayed, and in doing so He doesn’t just hand Himself over to the Jews and the Romans, but He also hands Himself over to you. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This is the glorious gift that we have been given tonight, for the Lord has handed Himself over in order to pour out His very life-blood for us. For just as this blood of the covenant marked the doors of Egypt, just as this blood was sprinkled on the people from Sinai, this blood is now your blood. This is the Blood of Jesus Christ, the new covenant, for the forgiveness of your sins. For He who once washed the disciples’ feet now washes you in the same way with His vitals which flowed from His side, that you may have a share in Him. To this we cry with Peter, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Lord not my feet only, but my life and my all, dear Lord, wash everything! And indeed, although He only may wash your feet, or wash only your head, He washes you entirely clean and makes you His own.
“By this,” by participating in the love of the Lord’s Supper, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if,” in this way, “you have love for one another.” This is where love is outpoured and flows, this is where brothers are reconciled, where eternal friends are made, partaking in this Supper. And in participating in this love, by proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, you witness to Lord’s Blood by the example of your participation. When someone wonders why are so keen to physically gather in church, you have an opportunity to point them to the Lord’s Body and Blood, to point to Him, the Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world.
Yet, we cannot love without discretion. We cannot allow everyone to sidle up next to us at the rail and partake of this love immediately, for the Apostle also warns us, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Even at the first institution, we have a Judas, a traitor whose name has been blotted out of the Book of Life and has become synonymous with betrayal. Judas did this of his own accord, in his unbelief, for instead of falling back on the Lord’s unlimited mercy, he despaired to the death. Yet our Lord loved even him, and we likewise can’t help but feel sorry for him; we want our brother to turn and be saved. So heed these words seriously and soberly: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” We do not withhold anyone from this rail out of anger or hatred or for the sake of inventing a privilege, but we do so with loving discretion and discernment, with the same love a father has for his child who is about to ingest poison. We cannot help but lunge for him, to reach out and prevent him from drinking it to his harm. Anyone who doesn’t, does not love him, and deceives himself with his own definition of love which is contrary to what our Lord tells us here.
This is a serious covenant. This is a matter of life and death. When the law of Moses was seriously transgressed of old, it meant death, hands down, no debate; the letter of the law has its due. Without the blood on the door, there was death and sorrow on that house the Angel passed over. Indeed, there is no door that can lock out death, his angel slips past all boundaries, all locks and keys, all masks, and takes whom he wills. Salvation comes only from the Blood. Just as we can only live with blood flowing in our veins, so too must we be nursed by the Blood of our Lord, that the angel of the death of this life may pass over us and leave us unharmed, that we may have a share in Paradise with Him. And so the Lord gives us this mandate, that although it is purely a gift of His grace, we are commanded to partake in His Body and Blood in His Supper. We are to love one another through His Cross, as Christians baptized in His Blood, so that we truly can love, without fear of death, for our sins are here forgiven and blotted out before the face of God forever. So love one another, with urgency but not with haste. Love by beckoning others to see our Lord, where He is physically present, as did His apostles, who simply said to one another, “Come and see.” Come and behold Him, the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world; behold the Paschal Victim, the Life-Blood of us all. Honor His mandate: take and eat, take and drink, receive our Lord’s death and His life, that you may walk in His covenant of love.
Lord, have mercy upon us, and guide us to this end: ☩ Amen.