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, does it? 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, maybe we should just skip the whole thing and put Jesus first, or at least call it "holy" Thursday and quit bugging people with weird words, huh?
Well, those names came about because of putting Jesus first. Here's the deal.
How This Night Is Different Than All Other Nights.
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 that laying them out over the days they happened as actual historical events, things which really took place, in the order they happened, not just as religious or theological beliefs. In her liturgy for Maundy Thursday, the church commemorates the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover seder, which is the memorial meal commanded in the Law celebrating the night before the exodus began out of bondage in Egypt so they could receive the Law at Sinai and go to the Promised Land.
The seder was already centuries old in Jesus' time. Does this mean that the Maxwell House Haggadah (the text that gives the service order of the seder) that you might find in a grocery store at Passover time is just what Jesus followed? No, it does not.
For one thing, the Haggadah quotes sources from after Jesus' time. The Tannaim (means "repeaters"), the Jewish scholars whose writings are preserved in the Mishnah (means "repeat"), are quoted. Their era was about 200 years, from Jesus' lifetime to roughly 200 AD; the latest one quoted, Yehudah bar Elaay, was active about 170.
For another thing, quotations from later than that appear too in the Haggadah as we know it; the Gemara, expositions on the Mishnah that to-gether with it form the Talmud (means "instruction"), whose era runs to about 500 AD.
For a third thing (this is the last "thing"), even later additions are found, and the preponderance of evidence points to the compiler of the Haggadah as we know it being Amran Gaon, who was active about 850 AD; he is also the compiler of the synagogue worship called the Siddur (means "order") which became the model, through Saadia Gaon and Maimonides (look 'em up or parenthetical explanations will go on forever!) of the Siddur as we have it now too.
Not to mention -- manuscripts! The oldest compete manuscript of the Haggadah is from the 900s as part of Saadia Gaon's siddur, and the Haggadah as a separate book apart from prayer books and the Talmud does not appear before about the 1200s; the earliest known printed one is from 1486, by the Soncino family in Lombardy (well, Duchy of Milan then).
This sort of stuff is often pointed to as meaning that the Scriptural accounts of the Last Supper say nothing about how it was celebrated, that the Jewish Passover is a post-Biblical service that has nothing to show us whatever about the "Last Supper" or about Communion as Christ instituted it thereat, and, that attention to it distracts from the Sacrament of the Altar. This is completely, totally and utterly false, and here's why.
For one thing (yeah "things" again but there's only two this time), there has never been one set text for Passover, in fact, there has never been an authority who could establish one, and several traditions exist, among them Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Karaite and Samaritan. A set text is not an order. These are variations, and variations are not fundamentally different entities but variations on an overall entity. Just as our Divine Service has had many different exact texts and forms over the centuries, yet a basic order is evident in them, and we do not say because these set texts are not found in the Bible our present order is something new unconnected to anything before it or to the Bible.
It's not about a set text, it's about an order, and that is the second thing. The order, not the set texts, is clearly discernible in the Gospel accounts. The fact, not speculation, is, that the Gospel accounts lay out a sequence of events at the Last Supper that is exactly the order that happens at seders to this day. A dipping, a meal, then a breaking of bread, a grace after the meal with a cup, then hymns. Exactly! The dipping is the Karpas before the meal itself. The meal itself is the Schulchan Orech. The breaking after the meal is the Tzafun, the eating of the afikoman (matzoh), which is where instead he said This is my body. The grace after the meal itself but not the seder overall is the Bareich where the third cup is drunk, which is where instead he said This is the cup of my blood. The singing the end is the Hallel and Nirtzah that conclude the order of seder!
No, this is not to say we should have "Christian" seders or start participating in Jewish ones. It is to say that 1) Scripture is indeed quite clear what happened at the Passover we call the Last Supper and 2) understanding the seder and the significance of its parts greatly deepens our awareness that the Sacrament of the Altar, aka Communion, Eucharist, etc, is exactly what out Confessions say it is and not what other understandings think it is. Here's how.
Early on in a traditional seder, the youngest person able to speak, noticing that there are many things different in this meal than in any other, asks "Why is to-night different than all other nights?" In our times, the person then asks four detailed questions about the differences, but in Jesus' time there were five, the fifth question being why to-night is everything roasted, but as that related to the existence of the Temple it was discontinued after its destruction in 70 A.D. To answer the questions, the Magid, which means "the telling", the 5th of the 15 parts of the seder, is done, which tells the whole story of the Exodus with explanation as to why everything is done as it is.
The Apostles didn't know it, but they were about to get not just a night different than all other nights, but a seder different than all other seders, in fact, the last seder under the Law of Moses! Imagine how astounded the Apostles must have been when Jesus, instead of the well known words of the seder they were expecting, said something entirely different at the breaking of the bread and at the third of the four cups of wine.
What's up with the Four Cups? It comes from Exodus 6:6-7, where God expresses the deliverance in four ways: 1) bringing out; the first cup, at the opening Kaddish or blessing; 2) delivering; the second cup, at the Magid or Telling; 3) redeeming, the third cup, at the Birkat Hamazon or Grace After Meals, and the point at which the focus of the seder shifts from gratitude for past deliverance to hopes for future deliverance; 4) taking; the fourth cup, at the Hallel or Psalms of Praise.
OK, so how clear does he have to be, if you know the seder? At Motzi and Matzah, the 7th and 8th part of a seder, the breaking of the bread, which is already different than the usual meal, with the regular blessing at the breaking of bread followed by the blessing for the Passover bread the matzah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Body"! And at the Third Cup, at the Grace After Meals, the Birkat Hamazon or Barekh as it is called at Passover, the 13th part of a seder, right when the focus shifts to future redemption and an extra cup is poured for Elijah who heralds the Messiah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Blood"!
Must have blown them clean away! And ought to blow us clean away too, as here, clearly, unmistakeably, he has taken the Passover Seder and made it his body and blood, the body and blood of the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice to-morrow would take away the sins of the entire world, but to-night he passes transformed seder on to us as his last will and testament, to have until he comes again!
Why is to-night different than all other nights, indeed!
And so the church celebrates mass to-night, or Divine Service with Communion if you prefer, a mass as always yet also a mass in remembrance of that first mass ever, the mass he celebrated on the night we commemorate to-night, at once both 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.
And to emphasise that the lamb now goes to the slaughter for our sakes, not only do mass and Communion go away until Easter, but after mass the altar is stripped bare of all its usual stuff not to return until Easter, while Psalm 22 (or 21 in some numberings), a traditional Jewish prayer of the dying, is recited -- My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
How This Night Is "Maundy".
Then, the most amazing thing happens -- so amazing we don't do it very often, even in liturgically observant parishes, maybe we 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 -- which is John 13:1-15, the account of the Last Seder, but the next verses telling the Crucifixion we will not hear until to-morrow -- while the celebrant takes the action Jesus took told in John, and washes the feet of twelve people.
During this washing, 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. Hence the name -- 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!
Normally a modern seder concludes with the 15th part, the Nirtzah, "Next year in Jerusalem!" or, if you are already there, "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem", a Messianic hope since this can only happen when the Messiah comes. But this same Jesus, who makes the Passover seder his body and blood, shall, as we see to-morrow and at Easter, himself be the Temple, destroyed and then rebuilt, as it were, in the Resurrection! We are already there, the rebuilt Jerusalem and its Temple right before us, his testament and pledge of our salvation!
How We Are.
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, doesn't seem to make sense but 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 Peter says Thou shalt never wash my feet! Just like us, imposing our ideas of what God should do even in front of God himself, in person or in Scripture.
So 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, but, just as we do, then runs to the opposite, no less extreme than before, and still 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, all 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 God's. 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 wake ourselves, 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 but let's do it this better way, come to just do it his way!
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