Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Palm Sunday begins what many Christians know as "Holy Week". It's the final week of Lent, commemorates the Passion of our Savior, and leads up to the Sunday of Christ's Resurrection.

Wednesday of Holy Week Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) hosted a luncheon for members of congregations which participate in the East Nashville Cooperative Ministries. Lunch was provided by a catering company with which church member Allison Witt is connected. The food was delicious and included garden salad, chicken tetrazini and something new to me: artisan's bread. Some of this latter featured slices of a loaf that included olives and it was scrumptious. After the meal there was a brief slide presentation (actually PowerPoint) about the work of the ENCM.

Unfortunately, there were far fewer folks attending this luncheon than anticipated, so we had lots of food left over, and the specter of a financial loss for ENCM and/or the caterer. (In earlier years the organization had sponsored as series of lunches during Lent, but this year simply the one which we'd hosted.) The solution was a hasty calling around ECC(DC) and East End UMC. The latter church was already going to join us for a Maundy Thursday evening service, and some of their members would be joining with the ECC Choir for the musical selections. Plenty of folks showed up from both churches for the impromptu dinner, and the food didn't go to waste!

The joint Worship of the two congregations was rather awesome, kind of a spiritual nourishment to parallel the physical nourishment of the impromptu dinner. Only the order of worship was hardly "left-overs"! Indeed, I'd not been to a service on a Maundy Thursday that was quite like it. The word "maundy" is Old English for "mandate" or "commandment" and refers to how while Christ was observing the Last Supper and instituting the Lord's Supper, He also gave His one new commandment to His disciples: that we love one another. This new "maundy" is repeated three times in John 13 and 14; this repetition impresses yours truly that THIS IS IMPORTANT information, so let's heed it!

Anyways, Maundy Thursday services I've attended previously -- which would be most years in the forty since I became a Christian -- focus on either the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus' washing the disciples' feet (often including a foot-washing during the service), or the new commandment to love. The foot-washing was Jesus' practical demonstration of what such love is -- an act of the will and of humble service to others, not just a warm fuzzy feeling.

When we the combined choir got up and sang the Anthem, "Silent was the Night", it was indication to all who heard that there would be more to this worship than what I was accustomed to on a Maundy Thursday. The Anthem was about the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which followed the Supper, the foot-washing and the giving of the new commandment. And so, after we observed the Lord's Supper, we had what I would call a variation on a standard Good Friday tenebrae service. "Tenebrae" is Latin for darkness, and alludes both to the darkness of our Savior's suffering on that Friday (actually the crucifixion was almost certainly on a Thursday, since Jesus prophesied that he would be dead and buried three days and three nights), and to the gradual extinguishing of lights (candles and electrical) while the "seven last words" of Jesus are recited. However, the order was more involved than this; it was a recitation of the entire Passion narrative, and as passages were read by various individuals other individuals would go forward and remove a decoration or two from the chancel area. Such activity is called the "stripping of the church." This continued until even the communion table was bare and the cross in the baptistery was covered with black cloth.

In what little light was still around in the sanctuary every one of us left in silence. And the silence was to be kept out thru the parking lot to our departing on cars. And you know, dear reader? I for one certainly did NOT want to say a word any way! The impact of the service was that moving; one wished simply to reflect silently on the meaning of all one had seen and heard back there in the sanctuary of Eastwood Christian Church. . . .

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