Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14 The Passover is a day of festival for all generations, for ever
1 Corinthians 11.23-26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the death of the Lord
John 13.1-15 Now he showed how perfect his love was
‘The Son of Man who came to serve not to be served and give his life a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20.28; Mark 10.45).
Tonight’s liturgy is perhaps the richest of the whole Christian year.
It densely packs together scripture, and associated imagery, in a symphony of salvation.
We are presented with Christ, the servant king, washing his disciples’ feet: ‘the Son of Man who came to serve not to be served and give his life a ransom for many’.
We receive the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, in Christ’s Body and Blood as the Paschal Lamb, which itself connects us to the Passover and the recollection of deliverance from slavery.
We see the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of the twelve, and its themes of human betrayal intrigue and failings. We see the all too human flaws of Peter, who refuses to have his feet washed, and also denies Jesus, having emphatically said he wouldn’t ever do such a thing.
Maundy Thursday ends in Gethsemane, the place of Jesus’ prayer, facing, in union with the Father, what is about to unfold.
That sets the model for the Watch of the Passion, which we will observe at the close of the Liturgy where we are invited to ‘watch and pray’ in the sacramental presence of the Lord.
Maundy Thursday inaugurates a liturgical ‘event’ that runs through to the night of Holy Saturday, when Christ is raised from the dead.
This ‘event’ is known as the Triduum Sacrum, the Holy Three Days, and is all of a piece. It is, as it were, the longest Christian service or act of worship, albeit interspersed with going home for rest and to eat.
Faced with so many themes and implications we could baulk at it all. Take time, though, in these coming days to digest what is going on here. It sets the bearings for Easter, but also for the whole mystery of the Christian life.
We are at the heart of the Christian faith here. The incarnate Lord, who has assumed our humanity, endures suffering, his Passion, and plunges into death, that we might be raised to life.
A theme that runs throughout the Triduum Sacrum is that of ‘outpouring’.
The Passion of Jesus Christ is an outpouring of love for all humanity and an invitation into the inner life of God.
These holy days are marked by the outpouring of God’s life and love.
Water is poured out on the feet of the Twelve – an action replicated tonight on the feet of disciples here in this church.
That outpouring of water hints at baptism because it is not just about an external wash but an inner cleansing that incorporates us into the Divine Life. As Jesus said to Peter, ‘unless I wash you, you have no share with me’ (John 13.8b).
Also poured out at the Supper is wine. The Passover wine recalls the blood of the lambs daubed on the doors of the Israelites so that the avenging angel would pass over them so they could flee slavery in Egypt.
Wine is poured out in the Eucharist. And tonight, after two years of deprivation the chalice is restored to everyone who wishes to receive from it. Not receiving the Precious Blood does not halve your intake of Grace. The Church teaches that receiving in One Kind is sufficient, but drinking of the outpoured wine, now Christ’s blood, gives the one receiving a deeper sense of participation in the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist.
The outpouring of blood is integral to sacrifice. That was at the heart of the sacrificial system of the Temple in Jerusalem alluded to in our first reading from Exodus.
Our culture speaks a great deal of ‘an outpouring of emotion’ or ‘of sympathy’. Those metaphors are not the same as the outpouring of water and blood is Christ’s sacrifice: blood and water is material, substantial, real.
The lamb is the sacrificial creature par excellence. It was John the Baptist, our patron saint, who points to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Jesus fulfils John the Baptist’s prophecy that he, Jesus, would be the Lamb of God and the definitive sacrifice. St Paul later recognises this stating, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5.7).
This is why at the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist we sing the text ‘Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis’: ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us’.
As Christ’s broken body hung upon the cross - the definitive sacrifice of reconciliation to complete all sacrifice - a Roman soldier, in what was intended to be an act of mercy, pierced his side with a lance and from it flowed water and blood, the seed of Baptism and Eucharist.
The Passion is the greatest outpouring of sacrificial love from Christ, who is both priest and victim.
This sacrifice is made sacramentally present at every Eucharist —not for the sake of God, who has no need of it, but for our sake. In the Eucharist, we participate in the act by which divinity and humanity are reconciled, and we eat the sacrificed body and drink the poured-out blood of the Lamb of God.