A Maundy Thursday / Good Friday Reflection

Why? Why, despite all the hopes and dreams that with globalization the world would become a better place, is there an aggressive and intrusive war against a peaceful neighbor, Ukraine? Why is it that the four freedoms defined by FD Roosevelt in 1941, ‘freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear’, are in danger of being subverted in varying ways in the spheres of politics, the media and social media, education and family life?

Why, two millennia ago, did Jesus of Nazareth die? He lived a life of unquestionable purity: he was never accused of lying. He showed compassion for the needy and the outcast, and revealed his unique divine power and authority in his care, his teaching and debating. And when Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea, asked him at his trial what he had done, he had responded, “My kingdom is not of this world…, implying there is more to life than our present experience (John 18:36).

Luke chapter 22 records Jesus’ words at a Passover meal with his disciples – what became known as The Last Supper. When he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples he said: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).

Passover is a special occasion for the Jewish people as they remember the time God had passed over their homes when they were enslaved in Egypt around 1200BC bringing about their release. Passover became the annual celebration of God’s goodness and grace and the freedom they came to enjoy.

The Passover looks back. On the night of the first Passover, God decreed that every Hebrew household should take an unblemished lamb, slaughter it, and sprinkle the blood on the door posts of their homes. Each household was to have roast lamb for their evening meal. God promised that his angel of death would pass over every household where the blood of a lamb was on the doorposts.

But it also looks forward. Twelve centuries later, Luke records that Jesus carefully prepared a Passover meal with his disciples on the night before his death. It was a time when the Jewish people had once again lost their political freedom. For some six centuries they had been puppets to super-powers and now they lived at the pleasure of the Roman emperor.

Passover signified freedom. And even the gloomiest of Israel’s prophets, Jeremiah, spoke of a new day of hope: The days are coming when I (God) will make a new covenant with the house of Israel … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When Jesus prepared to celebrate Passover with his friends, patriotic feelings were running high. Believing people in Jerusalem would have been remembering the exodus from Egypt. When Jewish families gathered for Passover they would say, ‘Today we are slaves. Perhaps next Passover we shall be free.’

At his Last Supper with his disciples Jesus dropped a thunderbolt. For when he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, he gave it to them and saying, ‘This is my body, given for you’.

The breaking of the unleavened bread is a vital part of the Passover. Every Jewish family member around the table knew by heart the words the host would recite: ‘This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who hunger, let them come and eat, All who are in need and let them celebrate the Passover…’

But Jesus words are electrifying. He didn’t say: ‘This is the bread of affliction,’ but rather, ‘This bread is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance…’ not of the Passover but, ‘of me’. He has made his body, his dead body, the focus of the Passover meal.

And that raises something else that was strange about this Passover meal. Roast lamb would have been the center-piece of the meal. Peter and John may have prepared the meal, but there is no mention of lamb in any of the Gospel records. Jesus was telling them, and is telling us now, that he is the sacrificial lamb around which the new Passover feast must revolve.

This is reinforced with his further surprising words. For when he took the cup of wine at the end of the meal, he said; ‘This cup is the cup of the new covenant’ (Luke 22:20).

‘The Passovers you have been celebrating over the years,’ Jesus is saying, ‘look forward to God’s new covenant. Well, Passover is about to find its fulfilment. This is the last Passover of the old age and the first Passover of the new age.’

Jeremiah said of the new covenant that God will forgive their wicked ways and remember their sin no more. The self-focused desires of people’s hearts had ruined the old covenant relationship with God. Jesus had not come to save his people from Roman oppression.

Neither did he come simply to restore peace – safety and security, prosperity and a good lifestyle. No. Jesus came to save his first followers, and you and me today, from our deepest need – our love of self and our indifference to God. And he has done it in exactly the same way that the lamb had saved the Hebrews on that first Passover night. As he said at the Last Supper, he gave his body and he shed his blood as the Passover lamb to rescue us from death.

Responding to a question about his reason for writing The Lord of the Flies, William Golding reportedly said, I believed then, that men and women were sick – not exceptional humanity, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of men and women was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.

Imagine for a moment you were the first-born in a Hebrew family at that first Passover. A lamb had been slaughtered, the blood sprinkled on the doorposts, and you awoke the next day to the sound of wailing from every Egyptian household. For in each home someone had died. You thought for a moment, and then you really woke up: ‘That lamb died instead of me! Because that lamb died, God spared me’.

‘This is my body, given for you.’ ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood, Jesus said. (Luke 22:19-20). ‘I chose to die in your place, to save you from the second death, God’s just condemnation,’ he is saying.

Elsewhere Jesus speaks of wars and rumors of wars in this world. And in another place he says: ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him, who after he has killed, has authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead authenticates all his words and actions.

At The Lord’s Supper, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sets out Jesus’ death as the one oblation of himself, once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

When we come to Communion we are called upon to truly and earnestly repent of our sins…  with the intention of leading a new life, … walking in the Lord’s holy ways. We are to draw near with faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, our one and only Savior. He is our only hope in life and death. (1662 Book of Common Prayer, Service of The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion).

A Prayer for Maundy Thursday / Good Friday. Almighty Father, look graciously upon your people, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Below is a revised form for the concluding segment of the Thanksgiving before taking communion, that is found in A Service for Today’s Church – Communion. The section is adapted from the Passover prayers filtered through the lens of the New Testament. A Service for Today’s Church was developed in consultation with others and is approved for use in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and at Christ Church New York City.

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The minister addresses the congregation: On the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

Taking the bread the minister gives thanks: Almighty God, we thank you for this bread, and for all you provide to sustain us. Above all, merciful Father, we thank you for Christ your Son, given for the life of the world.  Amen.

Breaking the bread in the sight of all, the minister says: This bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us one with Christ.

Taking the cup the minister gives thanks. Almighty God, we thank you for this fruit of the vine, and for every good gift that gives us joy. We thank you above all for Christ our Lord, by whose blood you have bought us and bound us to be your people in an everlasting covenant.  Amen.

Indicating the cup, the minister says: This cup for which we give thanks is a participation in the blood of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us yours forever.

Come, let us take this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in remembrance that he died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason