Maundy Thursday – Beauty in the Ashes

The English word Maundy comes from the Latin Man datum which means a command. What is this command? The command is the command to love, given by the Lord Jesus to his disciples and through his disciples to the whole world.

Maundy Thursday, reminds us of the great love of Jesus Christ and He brings together His entire life of love through two simple but profound symbols of Bread and Wine and demonstrates in action by washing the feet of his disciples.

Old Testament – Exodus 12:1-20

i) Introduction

It is the Jewish celebration of the Passover that supplies the liturgical framework of the Eucharist. The feast in the course of which, Jesus hands over the gift of his body and blood to his infant Church.

A study of Exodus 12:1-20 reveals that the Passover seems to have been made up of two originally independent feasts, the feast of the Passover proper and that of the Unleavened Bread. Both these feasts were so interlocked that the name Passover embraced and designated them both.

  • Feast of Passover proper – This feast grew out of the springtime festival sacrifice of a young lamb to secure the prosperity of the flock.
  • Feast of the Unleavened Bread – An ancient agricultural feast in which the offering of the first fruits of the crop was made During this time, only unleavened bread made from the new barley harvest could be eaten as a symbol of a new beginning

The religious significance of the feast was profoundly changed at the time of Moses and its celebration made to serve as a festive memorial of God’s divine intervention that made Israel the chosen people of God.

ii) Institution of the First Passover

The Passover remains the center, the heart of Israel’s religious life. The material elements like Barley bread, fine flour, wine, blood strike a particular suggestive pre-Eucharistic note.

Centuries later, Jesus, deeply immersed in the religious traditions of Israel, will enter this salvific stream, accept the essential meaning of the feast and transform it profoundly by raising it to new heights.

Hence, a clear understanding of the meaning of the Jewish Passover is absolutely essential if we are to grasp the significance of the Eucharist.

A careful study of Exodus 12:1-20 reveal the significant features of the Passover feast.

  • It involved the offering of the Passover Lamb without blemish and bones not broken
  • It involved the killing or the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb and its blood put on the two doorposts of the houses in which they ate them
  • It involved a meal, wherein the Passover Lamb, i.e. victim of the sacrifice was eaten by the worshippers
  • It involved a community, minimum ten members.
  • It was reserved only for the circumcised or the Jewish people (Ex 12:48)
  • It was a night of commemoration of the past for all generations. (Ex 12:42)
  • It was a night of hope, wherein Israel looked forward for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy (Is 11)

The Israelite celebrates the memorial of the past salvific event and this commemoration thrusts him forward, longingly, into the future. If the past is grasped in faith, the future is apprehended in hope.

iii) The Blood of the Covenant (Sinaitic Covenant

Moses said, “Behold the blood of the Covenant, which the Lord has made with you” (Ex 24:8)

Blood is utilized in the making of the covenant and for the Israelite blood is nothing but the symbol of life (Exodus 24:1-8)

“Blood is Iife.”(Dt 12:23). It is as if a torrent of life, symbolized by blood, had linked the people and Yahweh. Blood is sprinkled on both, directly on the people physically present and symbolically on Yahweh represented by the altar, and thereby an unbreakable bond of life is forged between Yahweh and the people.

Hence, in the religious consciousness of Israel, blood is a multifaceted reality.

  • Blood has a protective value for at the time of the Exodus it was the smearing of blood on the Jewish houses that protected them from the threatened destruction. It is this protective role of the blood that the festival of the Passover commemorates.
  • Blood has also a unitive function, as clearly stated in the making of the Sinaitic covenant since, as direct consequence of the blood splashing ceremony, Yahweh and the people are linked together in a covenanted relationship of love and fidelity.
  • Blood also has an essentially purgficatory role, especially in the rite of expiation from sin, as manifested clearly in the solemn ceremonies of the Day of Atonement.

For an Israelite, therefore, the sacrificial blood protects (Passover), unifies (Sinaitic covenant) and purifies (Day of Atonement). This is the threefold religious significance of blood

iv) The New Covenant

I have given you as a covenant to the people (Is 42:6)

The New Covenant declared by God in Jer 31:31, Hosea 2:19-20 and Ez 36:26 is connected in a way and even identified with the Messiah. “1 have given you as a covenant to the people” (Is 42:6).

Jesus will enter the heavenly sanctuary in his own blood, to become thereby “the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb 9:15). The promise of old has been fulfilled and the long, patient wait has come to an end: Calvary is the making of a new covenant, eternal and unbreakable, But how??

New Testament – Mark 14: 22-25, Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

 TOOK, BLESSED, BROKE, GAVE

“THIS IS MY BODY TO BE GIVEN FOR MANY”

“THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT”

“DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME”

i) Took, Blessed, broke and Gave

The Hebrew or the Jew directed his blessings not to things but to God. It is God Himself that is blessed by him in a gesture of praise and thanksgiving for all benefits received and in humble supplication for benefits yet to come.

Jesus did not bless the loaf of bread and the third cup of wine in front of him but rather blessed his Father over the Bread and the wine, thanking him in the name of the entire group for his past salvific intervention.

Jesus blessed his Father, not bread, but in the process the loaf of bread was ‘eucharistized’, changed, profoundly transformed so as to become the carrier of his presence in an edible form

ii) This is my Body to be given for many, This is my Blood of the Covenant

The Eucharist is the Mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the Life and death of the Lord. This means that the entire life of Jesus from the Incarnation to the Death , all that which made his life, the silence, sweat, hardship, prayer struggle joy humiliation, etc. is offered freely to us.

The new and eternal covenant, repeatedly foretold by the prophets, centuries earlier, will be concluded on the morrow and that very blood to be poured out from Calvary is now sacramentally present in the cup, as a powerful binding force linking up Jesus’ Father and the new people of God. The first Sinaitic covenant was sealed with the blood of animals; the second and definitive covenant is about to be sealed with the blood of the Son The upper room anticipates and foreshadows Golgotha.

iii) Do this in memory of me

The memorial is a dynamic movement in two directions, which constitute the core of the biblical memorial.

  • It is a reminder to the People about God’s unshakable fidelity to his salvific promises and this produces in the People a sense of profound gratitude for blessings received.
  • It is also a reminder sent to God, that he should not forget his promises in the future and also a petition or a supplication for further blessings to be acted upon by God.

What did Jesus mean by this brief expression?

Jesus was asking the infant Church around the table to celebrate the Eucharistic mystery as a memorial of him.

Hence the Eucharistic memorial emerges as the memorial of the Son offered to the Father by the Church.

  • The Eucharistic Celebration is a reminder to us that God so loved the word that He gave us His only Son.
  • The Eucharistic Celebration is a reminder sent to God, a supplication sent to the Father that he may remember his Son who died and was raised for the Church. The worshipping community, in the presence of the Father, appeals to the entire life of Jesus, but especially to his death and glorification, that in virtue of what he did, God may continue to be merciful to the Church.

What did Paul mean by “Until He comes”?

The Church is grateful to God for having sent his Son once, and now, gathered around the altar, she beseeches God to send him once again, Maranatha!

The entire Eucharistic action is not addressed to Jesus, but to his Father, for it is the Father that is reminded of the salvific work performed by the Son.

The Church reminds the Father, thanks and requests him to continue the work of redemption, which is not yet entirely fulfilled, not because Christ’s work was in any way incomplete, but rather because the immeasurable fullness of his life, death and resurrection is not yet entirely assimilated by the pilgrim Church. Hence, the work of redemption remains incomplete, not because of Jesus but because of the Church. It is not he but she that has a long way to go yet, trying to assimilate within herself the wealth of redemption initiated by the Father and accomplished by Christ.

Eucharistic prayer

“The Lord calls his People into his presence and confronts them with his salvation. In this creative act of God the salvation events of the past become the offer of salvation for the present and the promise of salvation for the future”.

This is the incredible wealth of meaning contained in Jesus’ command at the end of the Supper, ‘Do this as a memorial of me

iv) The Last Supper (A fulfillment of the Passover feast)

The significant features of the Last Supper, which fulfills the feast of the Passover.

  • It involved the offering of the Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ) without blemish and bones not broken (I
  • It involved the killing or the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ) and its blood put on the two doorposts (Cross) of the houses in which they ate them
  • It involved a meal, wherein the Passover Lamb, i.e. victim of the sacrifice was eaten by the worshippers (Body and Blood at the Eucharist)
  • It involved a community, minimum ten members.
  • It was reserved only for the circumcised or the Jewish people
  • It was a night of commemoration of the past for all generations.
  • It was a night of hope, wherein we look forward for the fulfillment of the redemptive act until he comes

We celebrate the memorial of the past salvific event and this commemoration thrusts us forward, longingly, into the future. If the past is grasped in faith, the future is apprehended in hope.

It all depends on our “I” being absorbed in Christ. It is no longer … (Gal 2:20).

St Augustine suggests that we must let ourselves be immersed in God’s mercy then our hearts too will discover the right path, the new commandment.

The New Commandment is not simply a new and higher demand, it is linked to the newness of Jesus Christ – to growing immersion in Him

I pray that this Love command which the Lord has given us on Maundy Thursday will be a command which we will not only hear but put into practice in our lives, Amen

Kindly keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Steven Pais