Lectionary Guide: Holy Week 2024

March 28 | Maundy Thursday | Year B

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-17, 31-35

Summary of the Text

Allen Thompson

Ancient Lens

Original Passover

If you frequent any web sites that have thread or message board formats, you occasionally run into the acronym “OP,” meaning “original post” or “original poster.”  If a thread has gone sideways or devolved into nitpicking about semantics, a forum moderator or knight in shining armor will intervene and try to call people back to the OP.  Well, our primary passage for Maundy Thursday this year calls us back to the OP, as in the original passage that Jesus and his disciples would have had in mind as they met on a Thursday night on the eve of Passover.

Exodus 12:1-14 is, of course, the OP—Original Passover—that God instructed His people to remember and observe.  On the one hand, there is a sense of haste because the Israelites are supposed to be prepared to leave Egypt soon after the Passover; but on the other hand, God gives them some very specific details that they are supposed to memorize, obey strictly, and adhere to for generations to come.  Granted, the adrenaline and novelty of an experience can imprint memories.  Still, the risks of not following the instructions correctly made the event a high stakes situation.  They had been groaning under slavery and had witnessed the plagues in the high-profile Moses vs. Pharaoh standoff, but they likely did not have a history of being called to this kind of immediate devotion and preparedness on an individual level.

They had also likely not witnessed an observance like the Passover.  All elders were required to make sacrifices, and at night rather than during the day.  There was a communal aspect—all the way down to the sharing of meat among smaller families—but a specific group was being consecrated apart from the wider Egyptian community.  There was a holistic aspect of eating everything in toto, and of course in the drastic difference between being saved for life and condemned to death.  Even with many animals sacrificed, the event was paradoxically both unique and communal, both contextual and holistic (Narrator: foreshadowing!).

Not only were the Israelites to remember and duplicate the festival; they were also to maintain the connection to the original in the very body of the sacrificial animal!  As they celebrated year after year, they sacrificed one-year-old animals as a representation that the animals’ entry into life had been spared upon the sacrifice of the prior animal.  Thus, the life of each animal—and more importantly each person—can be seen as being brought out of the life and sacrifice of the original (Narrator: also foreshadowing). 

Jesus Lens

Contrasts with the Original

In light of the Exodus passage, one of the most dramatic contrasts between the Last Supper and the Passover has to do with footwear.  Whereas the Israelites were to dress as if prepared for an immediate journey—sandals on, loins girded, staff in hand—Jesus welcomed his friends by washing their feet.  Rather than being prepared to depart at a moment’s notice to seek a new home, they have arrived home at the end of a journey.  It was the journey and the deliverance that God had promised to provide for so long.  Instead of being delivered from another oppressive regional empire, however, they would be delivered from the worldly dominion of sin.

Additionally, rather than a complicated set of rites for specific annual remembrance, Jesus gives them the general instructions to love on another (John 13:34-35) and take the bread and the wine in memory of him.  The blood that would mark and protect them would be his, and they would take it in—written on their hearts—rather than smear it on their doorways.  Instead of consuming all that was given to them, they would share it (baskets after feeding multitudes, great commission, Acts 2 montage of the early church).  Jesus would also consecrate them just as the firstborn had been consecrated for life long before them. 

Granted, they would still need to be on guard.  Even that night in the garden, Jesus instructed them to stay awake.  Even the ultimate once-for-all sacrifice requires being on guard, both while the sacrifice is being prepared (or preparing himself) and after he has been taken to the slaughter.  The disciples did not cover themselves in glory for this part of that Thursday evening, but they were still able to receive the benefits afterward, a statement of grace over law. 

Modern Lens

Rememberance

In terms of memory and observance, like the disciples we now remember because we are home.  In a sense, however, we must also be on guard and ready to move.  The preparation and mobility did not end with Jesus, as he had already told them on the Mount of Olives and as he would reiterate before his ascension.  Our home is in him, but we go where the Spirit moves.

The communal aspects evident in the Exodus passage should also inspire our celebration.  Far fewer people attend Maundy Thursday services than attend the following Sunday, but the commissions to baptize and make disciples and the commands to love—and Jesus’s own prayer that we may be one—should be in the front of our minds when we consider a small supper of 13 people (only 12 of whom stayed for dessert). 

Readiness

Thankfully, readiness is a central theme of the apostles’ lives and exhortations, so it is not lost in our further exploration of the New Testament.  Just as we should be ready for the threats and the urgency in the world, however, we should also be ready for the holiness and presence of Jesus in our daily lives and relationships.  After all, Jesus gave us these hopes and instructions with simple bread and wine in a normal dining room with a group of friends on a Thursday night, not with the sacrificial animals in a big spectacle at the Temple on the festival day.

Additional Themes for Preaching

From the day’s other lectionary passages:

Psalm 116

The author is not identified at the beginning, but most commentators ascribe it to David.  There is an individual focus, which can serve as a good reminder that the Lord’s Supper is not just communal, but if David is the author then it can also be seen as representative (since David was king).  This ties in well with various atonement theories, the role and inheritance of the firstborn, elders of families, etc.

1 Corinthians 11

Paul brings the people back not only to Jesus but through him and to the communal aspects of Passover.  He clarifies that the focus of communion is not just a meal and not just fellowship, but that it is a sharing in the Lord’sSupper, just as it is the sharing in everything else said Lord had done and was about to do.

John 13

In light of the start of the Exodus (the event), now the journey is done and Jesus’s friends are at home and he will wash their feet from the journey.  This is a beautiful complement to the original Passover’s urgency and the Israelites’ wandering, not simply through the wilderness but through generations and centuries. 

Sermon resources

Key Quotes

The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.

Ernest Hemingway (attributed)

When God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, then indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940).

Key Illustrations

Defining a Sacrifice

From what is common in all these expressions, we can extract the dictionary definition of sacrifice: “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else.” That is a good definition, but in terms of its understanding as prayer and as Eucharist, more must be added. Saint Augustine defined sacrifice by saying that it is an act, any act, through which we enter into deeper communion with God and each other, and that the sacrifice opens us to deeper communion by changing and stretching the heart of the one offering it.

When we add Augustine’s definition to that of the dictionary, we see that sacrifice works this way: To make a sacrifice is to surrender something out of love, something that is ours and is painful to give away, and to let the pain of that surrender stretch and change our hearts in such a way that we are now more open to communion with God and others.

Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist (Image, 2011).

These Impious Galileans

A passage often referred to in order to describe the sacrificial, countercultural quality of the early church comes to us interestingly enough, from one of its strongest critics, known later to history as Julian the Apostate, the last non-Christian (or pagan) Roman emperor (serving from 361-363 AD).

Julian had begrudgingly acknowledged that the Christians, or the “Galileans” as he referred to them, took care of the needy far more so than its pagan counterparts, which led to many new converts. This concerned the emperor because it threatened Julian’s attempt to restore the supremacy of the Roman pantheon. Most importantly, the passage describes just how powerful the Church can be when it models the sacrificial love of Christ to its neighbors:

These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes….Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors.

Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests). Those in the early church lived in a conflicted but beloved covenant community in peaceful opposition to the militaristic, materialistic, racist, and sexualized culture of the Roman Empire. The church was distinct, noticeable, and uncompromising. This type of prayerful resistance and faithful witness is needed today.

Stuart Strachan Jr; Julian the Apostate quoted from, Charles Schmidt, The Social Results of Early Christianity (London: Wm. Isbister, 1889), 328.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it so important to God that Israel always remember the Passover through a yearly ritual and pass it on faithfully to their children?
  • It was common in the ancient world, both among the Israelites and their pagan contemporaries to eat the sacrificial animal (hence the “meat sacrificed to idols controversy” in the early Church). The meat we consume still comes from killed—just not sacrificed—animals. How would eating something that has been sacrificed change your attitude toward that food? Why was it important for the lamb to be sacrificed for Passover?
  • Put yourself in the shoes of an ancient Israelite family participating in the first Passover—on the eve of liberation, having endured years of slavery and attempted genocide, having witnessed the plagues, and having witnessed the emergence of the enigmatic Moses and his brother Aaron as leaders of your community—now being told to participate in a new ritual and to be ready to rapidly depart your anscestral home. How do you feel? What are you thinking?
  • Why does Jesus establish the new ritual of communion before his death in the context of a Passover meal? What are the connections we are supposed to be drawing? What are some of the similarities and contrasts between the two rituals? Why are they important?
  • How does the foot washing in John 13 connect to Jesus’ establishment of communion?
  • Passover was a meal to be celebrated in the home with one’s family. Jesus did not celebrate Passover where he lived or with his blood family. How does Jesus redefine home and family for us?

Liturgical resources

Call to Worship

Adapted from Psalm 34:1-4, 8 (ESV)

Pastor: I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
All: My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
Pastor: Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
All: I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Pastor: Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
All: Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Dustin Ray

Prayer of Confession

Adapted from Psalm 34:1-4, 8 (ESV)

Pastor: Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
All: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Pastor: But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
All: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Pastor: O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
All: And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Silent Confession

Amen.

Dustin Ray (Adapted ESV for liturgical use.)

Prayer of Confession

Adapted from Psalm 116:3-11, ESV

The part omitted from this week’s lectionary

The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
I believed, even when[a] I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
“All mankind are liars.”

Allen Thompson

Benediction

Adapted from Hebrews 10:19-25

Having therefore, brothers and sisters, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, and having a great priest over God’s house, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for he who promised is faithful.

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

ESV, adapted for inclusive liturgical use.

A bound lamb on an altar.
Detail of The Sacrificial Lamb by Josefa de Óbidos (1630-1684) btw. 1670 and 1684. Oil on canvas.
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

More Quotes: Maundy Thursday

More Illustrations:

Maundy Thursday

Allen Thompson

Allen Thompson

Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina.  Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.)  His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.

Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music.  He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now.  As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.  

Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).