The Preacher’s Study
Paschal Triduum - Maundy Thursday
John W.B. Hill
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14;
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19;
1 Corinthians 11:23-26;
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The Maundy Thursday liturgy marks the beginning of The Passover of the Lord, the Great Three Days (each ‘day’ beginning at twilight — see Exodus 12:6).
At the beginning of the first ‘day’ (Thursday evening), we hear the story of the slaughter of the Passover lambs and the institution of the meal by which the Exodus would be remembered; then we celebrate our union with the Lamb of God who instituted a new meal of remembrance by which the New Exodus would be remembered.
At the beginning of the third ‘day’ (Saturday evening) we hear the story of the crossing of the Red Sea; then we celebrate our crossing over from death to new life in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. (In between lies the great sabbath, the day Jesus rested from all the work that he had done in new creation — see Genesis 2:2; John 5:16-17; 19:31-33).
When we preach on Maundy Thursday, therefore, we need to acknowledge this relationship between the historical prototype of the world’s creation and redemption and its final realization in the work of Christ. We are neither reconstructing the Last Supper, nor experiencing a Jewish Passover Seder. We are beginning our three-day celebration of the Passover of the Lord, God’s marvellous re-creation and redemption of the world through the life, death and resurrection of his Son. This has been the goal of our Lenten pilgrimage; the hour has come (John 13:1)! The results of this New Exodus will be the re-birth of the royal priesthood, the holy nation (1 Peter 2:9; see Exodus 19:6), but only as we come to terms with the Paschal Mystery — Jesus’ rejection and death, and his resurrection and ascension to glory.
One of the themes in the appointed gospel text for this night is all that Jesus now knew and understood (John 13:1, 3) and all that his disciples did not yet know or understand (John 13:7). We might compare their situation with that of the escaping Hebrews as they approached the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-14). But Jesus provides for them and us, as God had provided for ancient Israel, a ritual practice through which they and we would come to understand: sharing bread and wine in memory of him, and washing one another’s feet.
In the ancient Church, foot-washing became the ritual by which the Lenten journey of return of those who had betrayed the Lord, or lost their way as disciples, was completed in a closing act of reconciliation, after which those making this return journey could celebrate the Passover of the Lord together with all the faithful. In the contemporary baptismal rite used by Anglicans in North America, the baptismal covenant is expanded beyond the baptismal creed with some additional questions, the second of which is “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The Church never knowingly re-baptizes anyone, not even if they have wandered away from the covenant of their baptism; as Jesus says, “One who has washed does not need to bathe, except for the feet...” Our feet are the symbols of our walk, of the direction of our life, and when we stray we can be renewed in the covenant of our baptism through such an act of mutual service. For we were not baptized into a merely individual following of the way of Jesus, but into a royal priesthood, a holy nation. It is through our love of, and service to, one another that we become the revelation of the Paschal Mystery to the world. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John Hill is a presbyter in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). A member of APLM Council, John served as chair for the Primate’s Task Force on Hospitality, Christian Initiation and Discipleship Formation in the ACC. The work of this group led to the development of ‘Becoming the Story We Tell.’
Stanley Spencer, Last Supper (1920)
Nadine Rippelmeyer, The Footwashing