Lectionary Commentary 1: Holy Thursday

February 18th, 2012

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The passages for Maundy Thursday trace the sacred strand that runs between the institution of Passover in the Old Testament and that of Holy Communion in the New. In Exodus 12, we read of the preparations that Moses and Aaron are told to make before the pesach or Passover, the climactic moment leading up to the Exodus, which will define the Hebrews not only as a nation but also as a “congregation” (v. 3), marking the first instance of that term to describe Israel spiritually. Even the new year is now to be counted from this month forward, in order to commemorate the time when Israel becomes a people, and the Passover itself is likewise given so as to be a day of remembrance, to be celebrated as a “perpetual ordinance” (v. 14).

This theme of remembering, rooted in the Hebrew notion of zakar, so marking an event or individual as to be recognized ever afterward, carries through into Psalm 116, a thanksgiving hymn that, similar to Psalm 30, celebrates the deliverance of God’s people from near-death distress: “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications” (v. 1). And yet, the reason for being rescued is not simply our own survival; it is so that we in turn may walk before the Lord (v. 9) and pay our vows to the Lord “in the presence of all his people” (vv. 14 and 18). The psalmist declares that he will “lift up the cup of salvation” (v.13) or the kowc yeshua, reminding us of both the third cup served in the Passover ceremony, the cup of redemption, and of the life-giving cup of salvation offered by Jesus at the Passover celebration in the upper room.

In 1 Corinthians 11, the earliest account we have of the Last Supper (and indeed, the earliest record of any of the actual words of Jesus), we once again find the theme of remembrance in that ceremony. Paul notes that what he received (paralambano) from the Lord, he likewise delivered (paradidomi) to the Corinthians, using technical terms to signify the passing on of Christian traditions. It should not be missed that, on the night of remembering, Jesus suggests that we no longer simply remember God’s mighty redemption of old in the Exodus—which the Passover meal should symbolize for those who believe—but now it is Christ’s present work of redemption in each of our lives as well. The feast of Passover and the sacrament of Communion thus meld to remind us of all of God’s work on our behalf, making the Eucharist an acted sermon until he comes again.

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