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Maundy Thursday, Cycle C (2016)

In the presence of Christ! The festival of course provides opportunities for sermons on the Lord’s Supper (in which Christ is present), but also to how being in his presence, Justifies, sets free, and Sanctifies.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

This is a thanksgiving for healing and/or deliverance. God is praised for healing us, a witness made amidst the whole congregation in the temple (vv.1-2, 18-19). Reference is made to lifting the cup [kos] of salvation [yeshuah, or safety] (v. 13). This is probably a libation made in thanksgiving offered in fulfillment of the vow made by the psalmist when suffering (Exodus 29:40). But for Christians, the reference reminds us of the saving cup from which we drink in the Lord’s Supper. The psalmist identifies himself as a servant of the Lord, the child of a servant girl, yet who has been set free [pathach moser, loosed bonds] (v. 16). If read in relation to the New Testament this could also be applied to Jesus (especially the v. 15 reference to how precious [yaqar, or rare] the death of the faithful is to the Lord as well as the comment about the sacrifice in v. 17). Or it could be that the psalmist speaks for the faithful and is celebrating how precious Jesus’ death is? The way in which the psalm ends with Hallelujah (“Praise the Lord”) suggests the validity of this second way of reading the psalm.

Application: Read prophetically, at least two possible sermon directions emerge. Stress on the cup of salvation opens to the way for sermons on the Lord’s Supper (that we actually receive Christ in the bread and wine). Or the focus could be on Christology (how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament promises) and how his work sets us free — loosens bonds (Justification by Grace). Another option would be to do tend more to the psalmist’s gratitude for what God has done (to offer praise for the alleviation of suffering — Sin and Sanctification).

Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14

We have previously noted that like all of the first five books of the Old Testament, Exodus is the product of several distinct literary strands, all originating between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “these are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s Prologue. This lesson, describing the establishment of the Passover, is probably the work of the P (Priestly) strand of the Pentateuch, an oral tradition dating from the sixth century BC transmitted by temple priests or those inclined to regard the Jewish faith primarily in terms of temple sacrifice. Some Old Testament scholars contend that P reinterpreted an earlier nomadic spring festival, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, as a memorial of the Lord’s deliverance of the people from Egypt. Also see verses 14-20; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Numbers 9:1-14; Ezekiel 45:21-28.

The account in this chapter follows the description of the final plague the Lord worked against Pharaoh, which does not succeed in liberating the people (ch. 11). The month of Nissan (March-April) is to be designated the beginning of the year (v. 2). Reference is made to Moses addressing the whole congregation [edah, literally “appointed meeting”] of Israel, which is in line with P’s assumption that Israel was already organized in the Exodus era. On the tenth of that month, each family is told to take a lamb [seh] or share a lamb with its closest neighbor and divide the lamb (vv. 3-4). The lamb is to be one year old and without blemish (v. 5). Instructions are then given to put the blood [dam] of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel in the houses of the people (these were the holy places of a house). The lamb was to be eaten the night it was killed and instructions are given on how it is to be prepared and what is to be eaten (vv. 7-9). Presumably the insistence on roasting the offering ensured that its blood, the symbol of life, was removed. This is divine property and needs to be returned to God, not consumed.

The blood that is on the doorposts represents a kind of sacrifice to Yahweh, most appropriate since it functions for the Hebrews as a symbol of life (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11), and as such must be returned to God (Leviticus 17:3-6; Deuteronomy 12:16). The lamb is to be entirely consumed, except for the remains to be burned the next morning (v. 10). Instructions are given on the attire one is to wear when eating the lamb, which should be consumed hurriedly (v. 11). Presumably this is because people must be ready for the march in commemoration of Israel’s hasty Exodus after the angel of death passed over [abar] the people of Israel.

Passover explained how the Lord would strike down the firstborn of all living things in Egypt, but the blood on the door posts would be a sign for him to pass over that house so the plague would not destroy them (vv. 12-13). Henceforth the day was to be one of remembrance, a celebration of perpetual observance (v. 14).

Application: This lesson provides an opportunity to clarify the nature of the Lord’s Supper in light of precedents in the Jewish Festival of Passover. Testimony might be given to the love of God that unites Christian and Jews (Justification by Grace) and the themes of freedom implicit in the Jewish celebration of Passover (Sanctification and Social Ethics). If the lamb’s blood is understood as prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice, then sermons on this text might clarify Christ’s Atoning Work.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

In a letter to a troubled church in Corinth that he had established (Acts 18:1-11), Paul critiques certain reportedly aberrant practices pertaining to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, addressing those practices that were exacerbating factions in the church (vv. 17-22). He begins to do this by claiming to report what he received from the Lord (v. 23). This may be a reference to the fact that Jesus himself did not directly teach Paul, but what he has learned is from the traditions of Christ, the Church’s liturgical heritage. The Words of Institution for the Sacrament are cited. We are to remember Christ [anamesis] (vv. 24-25). Of course the Hebrew equivalent zakar entails that when we remember someone they are really present, as remembrance at Shechem summoned God to engage Israel in covenant (Joshua 24). The reference Jesus is reported to make to a new covenant/testament [kaine diatheke] may be an allusion to Jeremiah 31:31. Paul proceeds to testify that as often as the bread and cup are eaten and drunk we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (v. 26). There is a testimony here to Christ’s Atoning Work and to Eschatology.

Application: This is text with which to help the faithful appreciate the way in which the Lord’s Supper renders Christ present. A sermon on this text can also offer the faithful an opportunity to appreciate how the Lord’s Supper builds community (Church and Sanctification) or to emphasize verse 26 and relate the Sacrament to Eschatology, pointing out that the sharing we do in the meal with Christ and with each other is a sign of what life will be like in heaven or when Christ comes again.

John 13:1–17, 31b-35

Again we note that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

We consider in this text the most recent of the accounts of events surrounding the first Lord’s Supper. In fact, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, this account offers no report of the actual Words of Institution for the Sacrament, but instead recounts preparation for the Supper with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and then predicting his betrayal. This retelling of the story in terms of speeches by Jesus is typical of this gospel.

The account begins with the claim that before the Passover Festival Jesus knew it was time for Him to depart and go to the Father. Loving those who were his, Jesus is said to have loved them to the end (v. 1). This failure to relate the Last Supper to the Passover Meal is unique to John’s gospel. It is noted that the devil had already put the idea of betraying Jesus in Judas Iscariot’s heart (v. 2). Jesus is said to come from God, receiving all things from the Father, and knows he is to return (v. 3). He proceeds to wash the disciples’ feet (vv. 4-5). (This account is also unique to John’s gospel.) Hosts did not undertake such tasks among the Jews in the first century. In so doing Jesus makes clear that he recognizes himself to be assuming the role of a Servant (R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, p. 118).

Peter protests against his Lord washing his feet. Jesus responds that unless one is washed they will have no share of him (vv. 6-9). The Atoning Work of Christ on the Cross is here prophesied.

Jesus says the disciples are clean, but not all of them, indicating his knowledge of his betrayal (vv. 10-11). Some New Testament scholars (notably Oscar Cullmann, Early Christian Worship) contend that the reference to being cleaned by water connotes Christian baptism as preparation for receiving the Eucharist. For a discussion of this controversy, see James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, pp. 168-169). Pertinent texts for adjudicating the viability of this identification with Baptism include John 2:1-11; 4:7-15; 5:2-9; 7:37-39; 9:7; 13:1-16; 19:34.

Jesus explains the significance of his washing the disciples’ feet, though he himself was their teacher and lord. It is an example to the disciples (vv. 12-15). Servants are not greater than their master, nor messengers [apostolos] greater than the one who sent them. If these things are known there are blessings if they are done (vv. 16-17). These comments by Jesus here are also unique to John’s gospel and where parallels exist in the other gospels they are not uttered like they are here at the Last Supper.

After further discourse and the identification of Judas as his betrayer (vv. 18-20), Jesus leaves the room of the Supper. John has Jesus launch into his “Farewell Discourse.” He notes that now the Son of Man [huios tou anthopou] has been glorified [doxazo] and God glorified in him (vv. 31b-32). In a previous analysis of the gospel we noted the gospel of John’s unique understanding of this title. The author seems to understand the title in a Gnostic way, that is as a designation for the pre-existent one who became man and must be exalted again, though combined with the earliest Christian meaning of letting Jesus be understood as Messiah, an apocalyptic figure who at the end of time will come down from heaven and hold judgment (Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 37; Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 49). This understanding of the title certainly fits the themes of this lesson; especially the teaching of Christ’s saving work (his exaltation) and Eschatology.

Jesus then adds that he will only be with the disciples a little longer. They cannot go with him (v. 33). He gives them a new commandment [entole kainos] — to love one another as he has loved them (v. 34). By this everyone will know who his disciples are (v. 35).

Application: The text affords opportunities to proclaim God’s love for us shown in the Passion understood as a humble love (Justification by Grace) and how it might inspire such loving by us (Sanctification).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen