Believe it or not, Holy Week is just around the corner. The deacons in both OZ congregations are busy ordering palms for Palm Sunday and starting to put together the necessary order forms for our Easter gardens. The readers for our Good Friday Tenebrae service are all lined up, and I’m hoping to enlist the help of some of our youth for the Maundy Thursday service.
But why is it that we have such a busy week in the church year to begin with? Is it really necessary to go to church on Palm Sunday … and then again on Maundy Thursday … and then again on Good Friday … and then again on Easter Sunday?? Can’t we just go either Thursday or Friday and call it good? I mean, that’s a lot of church, right?
True. It is a lot of church. But the Maundy Thursday service and the Good Friday service each bring to life a very different point in Jesus’ final days. Each service represents a different step along our journeys of faith, and each service speaks a different message to our hearts.
So let’s talk about those different messages and meanings a little bit.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. ~ Matthew 26:26-30
We hear these words each month when we gather at the table to celebrate communion. But on Maundy Thursday, we hear them in a new way. We gather at a time when we don’t normally gather – a special time, a sacred time. That night, the disciples were gathering with Jesus for a special, sacred time, too. Scripture tells us they were gathering to celebrate the Passover together. They were gathering to remember the night that God had spared the lives of their sons in Egypt. They were gathering to combine their voices in holy prayers that had been passed down through the generations. They were gathering together not because they had to but because they could – because they wanted to be together … because they loved each other, and they loved Jesus.
And so we gather with one another on Maundy Thursday. We gather to share in that intimate, blessed meal that Jesus first shared with his closest companions and dearest friends. We gather to serve and be served, to bless and be blessed, to love and be loved by the One who created us, redeemed us, and continues to sustain us. This is a night to remember that even though Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice is right around the corner, it was a sacrifice born out of love.
Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what he said. ~ Luke 18:31-34
In one single day – one brief 24-hour period – we move from the devotedness and love of the Last Supper to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest and humiliation and pain and finally, Jesus’ death. The soft candlelight that bathed us in the Upper Room steadily dwindles until we are enveloped in darkness. We feel Jesus’ anxiety and distress as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. We watch as the disciples abandon the Son of God one by one. We feel the sting of Peter’s threefold denial, the sting of the crown of thorns as the guards force it on Jesus’ head, and the sting of the whip. We hear first Herod’s goading, then the crazed shouts of the angry crowd – “Crucify him!” – then finally Pilate’s pronouncement: death. We walk with Jesus to the cross. We sit with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the beloved disciples and watch with tears in our eyes as the centurions drive in the nails, mocking and taunting Jesus even to his final breath.
The mood of the Good Friday Tenebrae Service (“Tenebrae” meaning shadow or darkness) is far different than the mood of the Maundy Thursday service, but it is just as crucial to our lives of faith. We cannot go through our own lives pretending that only the good and comfortable and happy parts exist. Likewise, we cannot experience the miracle and elation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday without first acknowledging and coming to grips with the torment and sacrifice of Good Friday.