Maundy. Now there's a word for you. Just like a lot of that liturgical stuff, doesn't seem to make any sense in the real world of ordinary spoken language. Is there a maundy anything else? What is it to be maundy? As if that isn't enough, to German speakers this Green Thursday. OK, green is plain enough, but what's green about this day? Hey, why not skip the whole thing and just put Jesus first?
Well, the names came about because of putting Jesus first. Here's the deal.
In Holy Week the church commemorates the saving acts of Jesus, not that we don't do that all year, but this week we add to it laying them out over the days they happened as actual historical events, things which really took place, not just religious or theological beliefs. In her liturgy to-day, the church commemorates the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover seder, the memorial meal of the night before the exodus from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land began.
The seder was already centuries old at the time. We can only imagine how astounded the Apostles must have been when Jesus, instead of the well known words of the seder they were expecting, said something different at the breaking of the bread and a cup of blessing, making it his body and blood, the body and blood of the Lamb of God whose sacrifice would take away the sins of the entire world, and passing on to us this last will and testament to have until he comes again!
And so the church celebrates mass, a mass as always and also a mass in remembrance of that first mass ever, the one he celebrated on the night we commemorate to-day, at once the last seder, or last supper, of the Old Covenant and the first mass of the New. The purple vestments of Lenten penance are set aside and white is used; the Gloria, which has not been said during Lent (of course, if one follows the newer Vatican II style liturgies it isn't said anyway a good bit of the time!) is now said again -- and then, along with mass and Communion, disappears again until the Resurrection.
To emphasise that the lamb now goes to the slaughter for our sakes, not only do these things go away, but after mass the altar is stripped bare of all its usual stuff, while Psalm 22 (or 21 in some numberings) is recited -- My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Then, the most amazing thing -- so amazing we don't do it much, maybe can't bring ourselves to do it much, it's just a little too stark and graphic. A wooden clapper gives the signal, the deacon sings the Gospel of the day -- John 13:1-15, the account of the Last Seder, and the next verses telling the Crucifixion we will hear to-morrow -- while the celebrant takes the action Jesus took told in John, and washes the feet of twelve people.
During this, a series of antiphons are done, starting with one drawn from John 13:34 -- a new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. In Latin, this begins "mandatum novum", a new commandment; our word mandate derives from the Latin mandatum for commandment, and so does the word maundy. This is the day of the new commandment, mandatum or maundy Thursday! Hard to put Jesus any more first than to name the whole day after his giving his new commandment! Than to do what he did and as he said in the Gospel for the day!
That's our liturgy. And what of us? We're Peter. When Jesus got up during the seder and prepared to wash his disciples' feet and came first to Peter, what did Peter say? OK? Sure Lord, I know this must be right if you say so? No, he questioned Jesus: Lord, dost thou wash my feet? How often is that our response to Jesus -- you really mean that Lord? To which Jesus said, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Right, I'll get it later; not good enough, not to Peter, not to us. So he says Thou shalt never wash my feet! Just like us, imposing his idea of what God should do even in front of God himself.
Jesus makes it just a little clearer for him: If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with me. Peter then gets it, and just as we do, then runs to the opposite extreme, no less than before, imposing his idea of what God should do and his idea of what he should do before God himself -- Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Do we not do the same? Run from one self willed idea of God and our interaction with him to another, from one rejection of his word to another disguised as an acceptance -- anything, anything at all except just what he said!
We run from the washing of the feet liturgically like we run from the new commandment itself in all aspects of our lives, wanting it to be, like Peter, after our ideas rather than his. We can no more save ourselves than a man can wake himself from the dead, as CFW Walther said in one of his sermons. But the good news is we don't have to, so why don't we quit trying? He has done it for us, and this night given us his body and blood as the pledge and testament of our salvation to be ours until he comes again in glory!
Almost forgot -- about Green Thursday. Nobody really knows. It's a German thing. Some say it comes from the Latin dies viridium, Tag der Grünen in German, the Day of the Green Ones. Huh? Who are the Green Ones? Those who are now fresh and green after forty days of Lenten penance. Some say it comes from the practice of eating green vegetables this say. Some say it comes from green rather than white being the liturgical colour at one time replacing the Lenten purple. Some say it comes from greinen, to weep. Some say other things.
But for sure Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin name for the day, Dies Mandatum, the day of the new commandment. The liturgy shows us the new commandment in the giving of the Eucharist and the washing of the feet. May we Peters, as we stagger in our lives between No, never and Well OK then let's do it this better way, come to just do it his way!
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