The Way of the Cross, part 4

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread?
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?
On all other nights, we do not dip our food even once, but tonight we dip twice?
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline?

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life, Amen.

SCRIPTURE: (from the Lectionary)

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,

“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.

That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

PRAYER FOCUS: Tradition

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

The English word Maundy is derived through Old French mandé, which is taken from the Latin mandatum, the root of the word mandate. It refers to the first word of the phrase Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), given by our Lord Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:34 KJV).

According to Biblical scholars, The Last Supper is generally assumed to have coincided with the Seder meal at the Jewish festival of Passover (also called Pesach). Three days before Sunday is Thursday. Why then, don’t Christians hold Maundy Thursday commemorations of the Last Supper coincident with the Jewish celebration of Passover?

The Seder meal is replete with questions, answers, and unusual practices (for example, the recital of Kiddush) intended to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children at the table. The children are also rewarded with nuts and candies when they ask questions and participate in the discussion of the Exodus and its aftermath. Likewise, they are encouraged to search for the afikoman, the piece of unleavened bread matzo which is the last thing eaten at the Seder. Audience participation and interaction is the rule, and many families’ Seders last long into the night with animated discussions and much singing. It is a time for family and loved ones, a time to honor God and give Him thanks. It is a time of tradition. It is the gift of one generation to the next.

Some Christians have begun observing the Seder meal on Maundy Thursday, not out of submission to ritual, but rather, to honor our common tradition. It replicates, to some degree, the last meal Jesus shared with his closest friends. Plus, it is always appropriate to pause and give thanks to Almighty God for His blessings. It is even better to do this with one’s family and/or friends.

Jesus commanded us to remember Him, to honor Him, by observing the sacrament we now call Eucharist, or Holy Communion: Do This in Remembrance of Me (Luke 22:19). We break bread and share the cup not as individuals, but as a community.

We cling to these traditions in order to remind ourselves, and each other—and to educate those who follow after us—that God loves us and has done great things for us. In that remembrance we honor what we receive and can never repay: that in an act of unmeasurable love, the Son of God came as a sacrifice for our sins, that we may have eternal life.

Tradition.

Remembrance.

This is the Way of the Cross.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

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