Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday and Communion

It's no surprise that many churches today fail to acknowledge the deep spiritual significance of Communion, Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. Rather than the observance being the center of worship, it is typically tacked on to the end of a normal service. We quickly go through the motions with a somewhat fast food mentality, complete with plastic cups and prepackaged wafers. Doesn't exactly resemble a meal, or memorial for that matter. Whether observed every Sunday, once and month or every quarter, most Christian Churches incorporate Communion as part of their community of faith.  

Today is Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday. If you didn't grow up in one of the liturgical churches, you've probably never heard of this celebration. It has several traditionally rich aspects, but the most significant is the commemoration of the the Last Supper that Jesus Christ celebrated with His disciples, the night before He was crucified on Good Friday. While Palm Sunday and Easter focus on the more joyful aspects of the Lenten Season, Holy Thursday, as well as Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, commemorate the more solemn and reflective acts of Christ and traditions of this season. Although these celebrations are more somber, they remain just as powerful and meaningful to the Christian faith.

The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from a Latin word "mandatum" which means “commandment.”  If you're familiar with John's Gospel, you'll recognize that the essential commandment in Jesus’ message is found in the story of the Last Supper, when He humbles Himself and washes the feet of his apostles just before the traditional Passover meal. Afterward, He commands his friends to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In some churches and traditions, the observance of this commandment, the act of feet-washing, is often performed by pastoral ministers as part of Holy Thursday service.

The Last Supper story, which developed to become the Eucharist, Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper, is described in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), and expounded on in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Christians commemorate the Last Supper by sharing communion to commemorate the sacrificial death that Christ would eventually make on Good Friday. While different denominations may maintain different specific interpretations of this tradition, many incorporate a special communion into the Maundy Thursday liturgy.

It's believed that the Last Supper was a Passover meal and that has had a strong influence on the way that many Christians mark Maundy Thursday, and observe communion in general. It is not uncommon for smaller groups or entire congregations to celebrate the occasion with a traditional Passover Seder instead of or in addition to church services and communion. The Maundy Thursday Seder has been used by many as an occasion to remember and celebrate the origins of Christianity in Judaism and the strong ties that the two religions maintain.

As with me and my family, you may be observing Holy Thursday this evening. If not, let me encourage you to just spend some time reflecting on these events that took place over 2000 years ago. Remember the importance of the Last Supper, reminding us of Christ's body that was broken and His blood that was shed.  Meditate on the humility that He urges us to emulate as He washed the dirty feet of His disciples. And remember the command that we often conveniently forget, "Love one another."

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