St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Maundy Thursday
April 18, 2019
“The same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
THE WORD COMES from Latin and means Mandate. Maundy. A commandment. This all-important evening was the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and so much more. Before dawn, Jesus will be in chains, bleeding from many beatings, covered in human spittle, convicted of the capital crime of blasphemy, to be sentenced to death both by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. In twelve hours, He will be walking His cross up the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, and will carry our sins to the grave for us. But tonight, what was said and done? He knew His fate. The disciples needed some final instructions and a mandate, a command so they would not lose their focus. They were all that was left of His ministry on earth. It must root here and bear fruit.
First, He gathered them in a special upper room for the supper. It was Jewish custom for religious men to celebrate the Chaburah, a meal that anticipated the Passover of the next evening, with prayers for each item of food, and with a large chalice of wine to follow the meal that would seal the fellowship at each man’s sipping and passing it on. We know the story, we read it every week. “When He had given thanks, He broke the bread and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. After dinner He took the cup saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” It’s His Last Supper, the consecration of which sets His body and His blood in our hands, taken by His command: “Do This, Take, Eat, Drink this, all of you, for it is the new covenant in my blood.” He gave it to all twelve.
Then He got up, undressed, and began to wash their feet. He washed all twelve, even Judas. Peter objected, but Jesus said it was an example, and all must be washed. John’s Gospel is the only account that gives this and what follows. John declares that He loved us to the end.
After washing their feet, Jesus remembered one that was not truly washed but would betray Him. They all looked at one another, wondering if it could be themselves. John asked Him and was told it was one who received a morsel dipped in gravy. Jesus then gave such a morsel into the mouth of Judas, saying to him in effect, “Get it over with.” Judas got up and left the company going directly to Caiaphas with their location.
Jesus began telling how He was going up to glory and for a time they would not be able to follow Him. In the meantime, He gave them a mandate, a new commandment, to love each other in the same manner and intensity that He loves them. It was an intensification of the great commandments of loving God and one’s neighbor. It would be His chief command for the followers He left on earth. It’s the sign that we are His true followers. This command, like the communion, is for us all.
Peter couldn’t stifle his emotions. “Lord, where are you going? And why can’t I follow you? I would lay down my life for you!”
Jesus answered, “Indeed? Your life? No, Peter, tonight you are going to deny you even know me three times. But don’t be troubled. You already believe in God, so believe in me.” He spoke of our heavenly mansions and His coming back to take us there.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know me, you also know my Father. You are seeing Him, for whoever has seen me, sees the Father who lives in me. Believe in me and greater works than mine you will accomplish. Ask anything in my authority. Your prayer will be answered.
“If you love me, keep my mandate. Then the Father will hear my request and send you the Spirit of truth to live inside of you. Keep my mandate to show that you love me. The Father and the Son will come to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit will soon teach you all things. I give you my peace, not the world’s peace, but my own.
“I am the Vine, my Father the vinedresser. You are my branches. You must bear fruit now, or be cut back. Live in me and I will live in you and you will bear fruit abundantly to bring glory to my Father.
“Let my joy be full in you. My command is for you to love each other, even to lay your life down for each other, as I lay my life down for you now. I call you friends, for I chose you. The world will hate you, but it hated me first. You are no longer part of it, so the world hates you. You’re not greater than I am, and the world hates me without any rational reason.
“The Spirit will come from the Father and you will speak as He directs for you are my witnesses.
“Do you know where I am going? You look sad. But it’s good for you that I leave, for I will then send the Spirit to you and He is the final judge and truth in this world. So many things I could tell you, but you wouldn’t understand. When the Spirit comes, all truth will be shown to you. He will bring glory to me and show you what is before you.
“You will seek me and not know where I have gone. But as a woman in labor cries, so your crying will give way to joy at the birth of new life. You will see me again, and your joy no one will then be able to steal from you. On that day, anything you ask the Father in my Name He will give you. So ask and receive.
“Soon you will be scattered and will all abandon me. But the Father is with me, so be at peace. There is trouble in the world, but have joy: I have overcome the world.”
Jesus then turned His face up in prayer and they listened as He poured His heart out to His Father, regarding their mutual glory, authority, and gift of eternal life to all who are to receive it. Jesus prayed for those who have kept God’s word, for the Father to keep them and unite them as one, safe from the evil one. He prayed for us to be one, that the Father and Son and Spirit might live in us always.
Mandate. Maundy. A command. What are we to take away from this wonderful teaching remembered and recorded by the beloved Apostle John at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Do this, Take and Eat. The word “eat” is not a delicate one, but in Greek it connotes chewing and swallowing real food. While everyone may have spiritual experiences that have no corporeal elements, no physical objects or signs—and it’s wonderful to recount a vision or dream or feeling that assures us God is near—Christ left us tactile objects, words and actions that, when followed through in faith, will result in objective spiritual transactions. Baptize in water and name the Trinity, and one Christian makes another, forgiven of sin, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and born anew in the Body of Christ.
The hands of the bishop with prayers faithfully spoken, and we know the Spirit gives gifts of confirmation and holy orders.
And a duly ordained priest amid a body of Christian believers sets elements of bread and wine on an altar, reenacting Christ’s Last Supper in words and actions, to take, bless and break bread, take and bless wine, and give them to upturned faces in expectation of the miracle, to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood, as He promised. We have no doctrine for how He comes, except that in a mystery this bread and this wine now convey Him to us as well. And to what end? The living Lord promised to dwell in us. So tonight He does.
And the other mandate? Among all the lessons in that discourse are three repetitions of His new commandment. Love one another, just as much as I love you. Again, this is more than feeling. It is laying our lives down, however that may be required. We would take a bullet for the beloved other, like secret service men swear to do for a president, and have done so. More often it will just be dying to ourselves and making room for someone to be different than I am, or to go an extra mile, do unto others, suffer the little children, feed the poor, visit the sick, and speak out when truth languishes and God needs a witness. Do this. It’s the Lord’s mandate, maundy, Thursday and every day. Everyday Christians we are, for all that means, in obedience to His call, His command, His mandate, for the sake of our true and divine Lord.