One of the more sacred dates on the Church Calendar is Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper. This one day in the life of Christ gets a full six chapters worth of attention in John’s gospel (chapters 13-18).
Though the disciples could not begin to understand the importance of what was happening that evening of the Last Supper, Christ tried to prepare his disciples for his departure. He told them that one of the Twelve would betray him. He foretold of his death and resurrection and of the Holy Spirit’s coming to them to live in them.
He told them that he was going to prepare a place for them, and that he would return to receive them to himself so that they could be together. He prayed for them, that they would all be one, even as he and the Father were one. He told them that a joy would be theirs that the world could neither give nor take away. He warned them of troubles that they would have while on earth—persecutions and tribulations—but comforted them by saying, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”
To tangibly demonstrate his love for the disciples, he took upon himself the lowliest of lowly tasks—washing the dirty feet of his disciples, a task usually reserved for the lowest class of slaves. He told the disciples that he did it as an example to them—if he, the Lord and Master, washed their feet, they ought to wash one another’s feet.
Most importantly, he instituted the Lord’s Supper, the sacred meal that has, for the last two thousand years, been the center of Christian worship in churches around the world. He broke bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He took the cup, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant.”
Tragically, this mystery known as Holy Communion has caused more division among believers than any other point of theology. That which ought to be a mark of Christian unity has, to the outside world, been a point of divisive contention. We have not fulfilled Christ’s desire that we all be one, even as he and the Father are one. Each time we celebrate the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood—and especially on Maundy Thursday—we should make a point to pray for the unity that continues to elude us. May God grant it speedily.
Maundy Thursday is a somber time to reflect on the agony that Christ endured. But it is also a time of hope that is rooted in Christ’s sacrifice for us. If Christ was willing to go through the misery of
Gethsemane and the cross for us, won’t hear us when we call to him for our daily needs? As Paul said, if God did not spare his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him, freely give us all things?
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:54
Read “Dark Gethsemane”, a Maundy Thursday sermon preached by Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas of
Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church on February 5, 2006. The sermon was based on Mark 14:32-42.