As I sat to write a sermon for Maundy Thursday the words would not come to my mind. I could not think of what I wanted to say. So I took a different direction.
During Lent I had been doing a sermon series in my churches on Communion, so I decided to make my message communion. I took the liturgy and added aspects of the Last Supper story to help teach, and to allow those attending to experience it.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty. You created the whole earth. From the massive oceans to each single blade of grass. You placed everything with the great care and created animals to inhabit it. All of this you created from the chaos of nothingness.
Then you looked upon creation and sought to create humanity in your image. So you formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life. However, in our free will we turned away from your love and sought to gratify ourselves. Through your call your early prophets sought to rebuild our relationship with you.
Your people ended up in Egypt and in your love for them you sought to deliver them from their captivity through your servant Moses. You instituted a tradition amongst your people. This tradition of the Passover in which your people celebrated their freedom from the tyranny of Pharaoh and deliverance into your hands.
This meal was a gathering of friends and family. A gathering around a table and sharing the food that was sacrificed and prepared for the purpose of the meal. You called for the sacrifice of one lamb. This sacrificial lamb representing your love for your people. The Matzah, or unleavened bread, represented the hastiness which the Israelites fled Egypt. Three pieces of Matzah were gathered during the meal. The middle piece of Matzah was taken from the three and was broken to create what became known as the afikoman. The afikoman was then wrapped in linen and hidden until the end of the meal when it was recovered and then passed around and shared among all of the guests.
At the Passover table there were also five cups each filled with wine. Four of them were shared with the table as signs of God’s promise to the Israelites in Egypt. “I will take you out…” “I will save you…” “I will redeem you…” “I will take you as a nation…” However the fifth cup posed the most interest. This cup was reserved. Not for anybody on this earth or present at that table but for the return of your prophet Elijah who lead the way for your coming Messiah. Much as the front door remained open during the meal to ensure Elijah was welcome so too did the fifth cup remain filled for the prophet as well.
This special meal came to represent the relationship you held with your people you always sought to hold with them. Within the celebration of this meal a covenant was understood between you and your people. This covenant meant to stand the test of time that you would always be there for us. You made covenant to be our Sovereign God and you continued to speak to us through your prophets that you continue to call.
And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Holy are you, and blessed is your Son. Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people. Much as you saved your people from the hands of Pharaoh before the Exodus now you sought to save your people from the bondage of sin and evil.
This man, your Son, walked along the countryside sharing the message of love and mercy. He called twelve disciples. In the midst of the throngs of people who hung on every word he said and those seeking relationship there were these twelve whom he held close and taught privately. He discipled to them in a manner that allowed them to understand who you truly were, so that they too could share the message of the Christ whom you sent to set us free. These twelve became more than friends. They became for him part of his family. A group of people whom he could share anything with, whom he could confide in, and whom he could seek comfort alongside the family who watched him grow up.
He, along with the disciples he had called, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners. Doing your work all across the lands and setting the stage for the manner in which we too carry out your acts in our time today. He taught, not only his disciples, but taught the throngs of people who also followed him. He provided insight into how God expects us to live our lives, and the manner in which we should cherish our relationship with God.
He was on a journey during his life. This journey that led him to the cross. The manner in which you provided the sacrificial lamb to set us free. Your Son’s entire ministry led the point of the cross which was preceded by his final days and final hours on this earth.
This man, Your Son, Jesus, knowing that his time was nearing and soon the prophecy would be fulfilled gather those close friends, family, his disciples. He gathered them together on this night for the Festival of Unleavened Bread for the Passover Seder. This meal that had come to reflect back and represent the beginning of the Exodus. The freeing of your people from Egypt. Jesus and his disciples, his closest friends, gathered around a table in the upper room of a house of a man who humbly allowed himself to be a part of this special celebration.
However, this night was different. For Jesus knew what was to happen in the coming hours. He knew that this would be the last supper he would celebrate with his disciples. He knew that this was to be more than a traditional Passover Seder, but was to represent the promise of what was to happen.
They went through the ritualistic traditions of the Seder. Setting the table and ensuring everything was in its place. With all of the pieces together they began the meal and celebrated as a family. Your Son presided over the meal and when the time came he stacked the three pieces of Matzah, picked out the middle one, broke it and took the smaller piece creating the afikoman. He then wrapping it in linen and put it away for later and continued with the traditions of the meal.
The thirteen ate drank and told stories. Recounted the Exodus story and the promise of the covenant you had made with your people. All the while Jesus knew of the actions to which he would endure in the coming hours.
As the supper neared its end he reached for and recovered the afikoman. He took this piece of bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When the supper was over, he took a cup, but not just any cup. For the first four cups had already been consumed through the ritual of the Seder meal. There was but one cup left. The cup of Elijah. The one that represented the return of Elijah. The one that represented the coming of the Messiah. Jesus took that cup, lifting it he gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In these actions the disciples understood what was to happen. They saw not only the Christ whom you had sent, this man, your Son,but they saw the meaning behind why he was sent. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to a church. Not just any church, but your Church. In the same manner in which you delivered your people out of the slavery they experienced in Egypt you delivered us from our slavery to sin and death. You made with us, by way of your Son, Jesus, a new covenant by water and the Spirit. When your Son ascended, he promised to be with us always, in the power of your Word and Holy Spirit.
Through this meal we receive your love and it is made known through our understanding of who Jesus is. That night those many years ago when Jesus gave of himself to set forth a new covenant and our lives and our relationship with You were forever changed.
And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever.
Historical aspects of the Passover Seder and relation to Christian Practice from http://www.crivoice.org/seder.html
Format of liturgy taken from United Methodist Book of Worship Service of Word and Table II