Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1. I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
10. How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?
11. I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
12. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.
13. Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.
14. O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15. I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
16. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,
17. In the courts of the LORD’S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “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.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In the year 381, a group of pilgrims from western Europe made the long and dangerous journey to visit the Holy Places in what are now Israel, the West Bank and Sinai. Among them was an aristocratic Spanish woman named Egeria. She kept a journal of the places that they visited, the people whom they met, and the religious observances that they witnessed during their travels.
Among Egeria’s writings was the first description that we have of a Maundy Thursday observance. Since the practice of the Christian faith had been legalized less than 70 years earlier, special practices such as these tended to take place only in and around Jerusalem, where believers had observed these special days since New Testament times. Even at this early date, Christians gathered on this evening to celebrate the Eucharist, commemorating in a special way Jesus’ Last Supper. They saw that service as the beginning of their Good Friday and Easter observance; and they connected it closely with the next day’s commemoration of the death of Jesus. They did not see what they did that evening as a stand-alone rite.
But then, neither did Jesus himself. St. Paul, writing in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us the earliest account that we have of the Last Supper, and consequently of the Eucharist. In that account, which we heard as this evening’s second reading, Jesus speaks of his body “which is for you” and of his blood “of the new covenant”: both clear allusions to his coming death. He was giving his body, his own self; he was giving his blood, his own life, for the sake of others. And the ritual action that he was taking during that Last Supper with them enacted that gift, that sacrifice, in symbolic form.
Over the centuries, many Christians have interpreted Jesus’ instructions to “do this… in remembrance of me” as referring solely to the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup: simply to the ritual action. But, if we look at the larger picture that the scriptures present to us, it becomes obvious that Jesus is asking much more of us than just repeating a sacred meal. Jesus is asking us to do also what that meal represents: renewing our baptismal commitment to give our entire selves, to give our entire lives for the sake of others, just as he did. That is what the Eucharist is all about.
Sharing in the Eucharist is not just a nice thing to do. It is not just a friendly gesture, like offering somebody a cookie at Coffee Hour, indicating that we accept one another and welcome one another. We can do that at a variety of social occasions. Instead, the Eucharist is very serious business. In it we are making a very solemn commitment. By sharing in the Eucharist we are saying to the world along with Jesus “This is my body given for you. This is my life poured out for you.”
And it is not just as individuals that we make that solemn commitment. By coming forward to the one table to eat of the one bread and to drink of the one cup, we are binding ourselves both to Jesus and to one another. We are making that commitment to Jesus and to one another. We are allowing Jesus to make us one in his Body and Blood and are reaffirming our promise to pour out all that we have and all that we are together for the sake of the world that God has made, for the sake of the world that God loves, for the sake of the world for which Jesus poured out his life.
In joining in this sacred meal, we are joining ourselves to what Jesus did at the Last Supper and to what Jesus did on Good Friday. But our sharing at the Lord’s table points, not only to the past, but also to the future. It is a foretaste of the great and never-ending feast waiting for us in the fullness of the reign of God. By gathering at this table with one another and, by extension, with people from all around the world – people of all nations, of all languages and peoples and nations – we are enacting in anticipation, what God is making of the world and those who live in it. In and through Jesus, and in and through us who are baptized into his death and resurrection, God is even now at work in the world, breaking down all the barriers that separate us from one another and making of us one people, prepared to take our places around the one table, sharing in the life and love of our one God.