Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let Us Keep The Feast

I went to an Episcopal school for four years, and though it's been a while, when you go to chapel twice a week for that long, some things become ingrained. For me, one of those things was Rite II Eucharist, which includes the line:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.

That, for me, is Maundy Thursday.

I love Holy Week services and especially Holy Week music, and Maundy Thursday is no exception. I'll start off with the name: Maundy Thursday. Some people call it Holy Thursday, which is true, but much less evocative. Maundy comes from a root meaning commandment:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, NKJV)

In John, the Last Supper isn't the night of Passover. Instead, Christ himself is the Paschal lamb (Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us), and the Last Supper is really all about the instruction Jesus gives the disciples. He prepares them for the future, telling them that God will send the Spirit, that their joy will be complete, that he is leaving them his peace, and to take heart, for he has overcome the world.

But first, Jesus washes his disciples' feet, and then he commands them to love each other as he has loved them. The beginning of John 13 says: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the very end. I've always liked the idea of loving to the very end. Jesus, knowing that among the disciples was one who would betray him, another who would deny him, and nine more who would run away, nevertheless loved them fully and completely to the end. That's the kind of love God gives us, and that's the kind of love I want to emulate.

Along those lines, one of the hymns I associate with Maundy Thursday is "Jesu, Jesu," whose chorus is this:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
Show us how to serve
The neighbors we have from you.

Here are the first and fourth verses:
Kneels at the feet of his friends,
Silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them

Loving puts us on our knees,
Serving as though we are slaves,
This is the way we should live with you. 

This song is all about emulating Jesus' love and service. He loved to the very end, so much that he died on the cross for us. One of the lines that has been repeated in the services I've been to over the past three days is this: "Jesus Christ, who for our sake became obedient to death, even death on a cross." Crucifixion wasn't a pleasant death by any means, but for us Christ obeyed the will of the Father and suffered and died on the cross. In the everyday, we're not called to anything that extreme, but we are still called to love like Christ. That means serving others with all we have.

 Here's another hymn about service, "The Servant Song" by Richard Gillard (and yes, I'm quoting all of it):

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to 
Let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey;
We're together on this road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christlight for you
In the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
When you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we see this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony,
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony. 

I love this hymn so much. It relates to the service, but it also speaks to the community that Jesus asked the disciples to form. Christ didn't just tell the disciples to go out and love and serve the world, though God certainly asks that of us. Christ very specifically tells the disciples that they must love one another. We should love everyone -- everyone is our neighbor -- but there's something very special about being a community in Christ, about being Church. I think this hymn captures that very well. The third verse is my favorite because I love the idea of holding a Christlight for each other, but I think the second, third, and fourth verses together carry a lot of power. And then the fifth verse? Our harmony in praising God comes from our communal knowledge of what Christ suffered for us and just how much Christ loved us.

So that's the Maundy part of Maundy Thursday -- love one another. But Maundy Thursday is also the Last Supper, the origin of communion/Eucharist/etc, and there are some fantastic hymns related to that. I'm particularly fond of "One Bread, One Body," "Let Us Break Bread Together," and "For the Bread Which You Have Broken."

Here are the first two verses of "For the Bread Which You Have Broken:"
 For the bread which you have broken,
For the wine which you have poured,
For the words which you have spoken,
Now we give you thanks, O Lord. 

By this pledge that you do love us,
By your gift of peace restored,
By your call to heaven above us,
Hallow all our lives, O Lord.

I like this because it aligns pretty will with how I pray after receiving communion. Communion for me is always -- regardless of where I am spiritually -- a justifying grace moment. I say yes to God again because communion (aptly named) brings us into community with God and each other. The invitation to communion my church uses is this: If you love God, or if you want to love God, come and receive God's grace. The first verse is acceptance and praise. I take of the bread and the cup, which represent the body, blood, and new covenant, and I praise God for God's grace. The second verse is the beginning of a new journey: Hallow all our lives, O Lord.

"Let Us Break Bread Together" is an Afro-American spiritual, and it's one commonly sung during communion. The first verse has the phrase "break bread," and the second and third verses use "drink wine" and "praise God" respectively in place of "break bread."

Let us break bread together on our knees, (on our knees)
Let us break bread together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

This affirms both the communal aspect and the sense of God's mercy, and the simplicity makes it easy to sing during communion. That in turn meant that it was the first communion hymn I learned.

Finally, "One Bread, One Body" by John Foley, which is the hymn I associate most strongly with communion and Maundy Thursday:

One bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many throughout the earth,
We are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile of Jew, servant or free,
Woman or man, no more.

Many the gifts, many the works,
One in the Lord of all.

Grain for the fields, scattered and grown,
Gathered to one, for all. 

Part of the Service of Word and Table in the United Methodist Hymnal is this: By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. We're all different people, scattered all over the world, with many different spiritual gifts and work that we do for God. And yet we are one Church, one body of Christ in the world because there is One Lord of all. We are all united by belief in Jesus' death and resurrection, which was for us, that we might live. The bread and the cup represent Jesus' body (This is my body, which is given for you) and blood and new covenant (This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins), and through the body, blood, and new covenant are we given life in the Lord. That brings us all into one body. 

We celebrate communion because of this symbolism, because it unites us as Church, and finally, because Jesus told his disciples to do so, though at the time they didn't understand why.

Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 

Do this in remembrance, Jesus told us. The disciples didn't know then what they should be remembering, but we know. Christ gave himself up for our redemption.

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

Therefore, let us keep the feast.

(All Lord's Supper quotes are from the Services of Word and Table in the United Methodist Hymnal) 

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