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Introduction To The Scripture For Maundy Thursday - Year C
Exodus 12:1-4,11-14; Psalm 116:1-2,12-19; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17;31(b)-35

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman ( of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

Maundy Thursday - Year C

EXODUS 12:1-4,(5-10),11-14    In what is known as the Priestly document,
written about 400 BCE, the instructions were given for celebrating the
Passover as a family remembering the flight of the Israelites from slavery
in Egypt. More than likely, this would have been the way the Passover was
celebrated in New Testament times.

PSALM 116:1-2,12-19           This psalm is one of six in what is known as
the Hallel (Pss.113-118) with great emphasis on praise to God.  In this
instance, thanksgiving is offered for recovery from a near fatal illness.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-26        This first recorded statement about the
institution of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper differs somewhat from the
reports in the gospels.  Paul's puts emphasis on the memorial aspect of the
elements and the action while the gospels make an eschatological emphasis
related to the coming of the kingdom.  For Paul too, the celebration brings
us into direct relationship with the risen Christ.

JOHN 13:1-17,31b-35           Jesus washed the feet of the disciples then
told them that it was an expression of willingness to serve as he himself
did.  It is also an expression of love for one another within the Christian
community.  While never completely dying out, the practice has never
reached the same symbolic significance as the other ordinances instituted
by Christ.


EXODUS 12:1-4,(5-10),11-14   The institution of the Passover as stated in
this passage is a strange mixture of traditions.  It reads into the Torah a
custom that may have developed long before the actual Exodus from Egypt.
Exodus 5:1refers to a festival prior to the Exodus which many scholars
believe was a spring festival related to the shepherding culture of the
early Israelites.  It celebrated an annual event when the first-born lamb
was sacrificed to assure the continued fertility of the flock or when
flocks were moved to a new pasture.  The festival subsequently became
connected to the sacred epic of the Israelites, perhaps long after the
settlement in Canaan and the development of formal liturgies of the temple.
This interpretation finds further support in the recognition that the
passage is part of the Priestly document presumed to have been written in
the Persian period following the return from the exile in Babylon and the
rebuilding of the temple.  It is estimated that this document, composed
possibly as late as 400 BCE, was the last of the four to be woven together
into the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures known as the Torah.

As it stands now, the passage describes how Moses and Aaron received
instructions from Yahweh to celebrate the *Pesah* festival prior to the
Israelites flight from Egypt.  The Hebrew name is derived from the verb
meaning "to protect, to have compassion, or to pass over."  The English
"Passover" is derived from the Latin Vulgate.  The specific instructions,
including the roasting of the slaughtered lamb and unleavened bread, relate
to the need for haste in preparing to flee.  The ambience of the festival
was the family home quite apart from the sanctuary which only much later
became the dominant locale for its celebration. 

A tractate of the Mishnah from about 200 CE describes how the festival was
celebrated prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.  This would
have been the memorial festival which Jesus knew and celebrated as a
faithful Jew.  Unquestionably, it was a memorial feast celebrated as if the
celebrants themselves had come out of Egypt.  As the Gospels record, it
contributed greatly to the celebration of the Christian Eucharist. 

PSALM 116:1-2,12-19   As long ago as 1650 when the Scottish Psalter became
the hymn book of the Church of Scotland, this thanksgiving psalm has
contributed much to the celebration of the Lord's Supper.  In its original
form, it was one of six in the Hallel group (Pss. 113-118) used at Israel's
great festivals.  In particular, this  song thanked Yahweh for the
celebrant's recovery from a near fatal illness.  Intended for recitation in
the presence of a congregation during the offering of a gift, it expresses
sincere gratitude for Yahweh's merciful deliverance.

The question in vs.12 implies that the proffered gifts are too small a
sacrifice in return for the blessing received.  An animal sacrifice, a vow
of faithfulness, possibly accompanied by a sum of money, and a cup of wine
would have been the appropriate offerings.  Not only were the assembled
congregation witnesses to the sacred rite, the celebrant believed that
Yahweh was also present, ready to hear his prayer and accept his offering. 
That this is a temple ritual becomes clear in the last verse. 

Vs.15 presents something of an anomaly.  This may be a declaration that
Yahweh will permit the death of faithful Israelites only when it cannot be
avoided.  John Calvin reiterated this belief in his commentary on the
Psalms: "God does not hold his servants in so little estimation as to
expose them to death casually."  This does not fit well with our present
understanding of fatal illnesses.  It is cold comfort to say to mourners
after a long and finally unsuccessful struggle with disease, "This is God's
will."  The relation of the deity and death in such a manner ignores the
victory of the cross and resurrection.  In the words of the Creed of The
United Church of Canada, "In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is
with us. Thanks be to God."

1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-26   This is the very first report of the celebration
we now know as the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion or the
Eucharist.  We often read this passage during the sacramental liturgy to
remind us of its existence as part of our Christian witness since the very
beginning of the tradition.  Repeating these words describing "the
institution of the Lord's Supper," as one of our liturgies defines it,
links our own witness with that of the apostolic community in the earliest
days after the resurrection. 

Paul wrote that he has received it "from the Lord."  It may be quibbling to
ask, "When?"  It is more than likely that after his conversion on the
Damascus Road, he found it being celebrated by the community in that city.
The Christians he went to Damascus to persecute certainly could have
received it from the apostolic communities in Jerusalem or Galilee.  In his
highly sensitive state of mind so soon after his conversion experience,
Paul certainly would have believed that he received it from Jesus himself.

Although there are many similarities, Paul's account is closer to that of
Luke than the accounts given in Matthew and Mark . (Cf. Luke 22:14-23; Mark
14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29)  The major distinction is that Paul emphasized
the memorial aspect of the elements and the action while the gospels make
an eschatological emphasis related to the future coming of the kingdom.
This points to a theological development having taken place in the
intervening years.  Nearly two decades separated Paul's correspondence
(ca.52 CE) with the Corinthians and the writing of Mark's Gospel (ca.70
CE).  Another decade or two later Luke (ca.80-85 CE) and Matthew (ca.85-90
CE) wrote their gospels.  Paul assumed that Christ would return soon.  This
was no longer obvious to the authors of the first three gospels. Christian
eschatology no longer had the imminence it once had for the early church,
but the hope of Christ's return to establish his reign of love and peace
remained.  It would be recalled with faithful reiteration of the promise
Christ himself made at the institution of the sacramental meal as a
foretaste of the messianic banquet of the age to come.

Although half a century old, William Barclay's analysis of this passage
contains two points of considerable significance. (*The Daily Bible Study:
The Letters to the Corinthians.* Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1954.)
Barclay noted that this celebration is a memorial of Jesus' death, of
course, but it is more.  "It is a means not only of memory, but of living
contact with Jesus Christ.  To a stranger, to an unbeliever, to a mocker,
it would be nothing; to the lover of Christ it is a way to the presence of

Barclay also translates the reference to the covenant in a slightly
different way than the traditional or modern English versions.  He points
out that the Greek preposition *en* can sometime be translated "at the cost
of" rather than "in."  So he puts the covenant phrase in these words: "This
is the new covenant and it cost my blood."  This serves to bring out the
establishing of a new relationship between God and ourselves no longer
dependent on law but on love.  "It depends not on man's ability to keep the
law - for no man can do that - but on the free grace of the love of God
offered to men.  This changes the whole relationship of God to man....  It
cost the life of Jesus to make that new relationship possible.  And so the
scarlet wine of the sacrament stands for the very life-blood of Christ
without which the new covenant, the new relationship of man to God, could
never have been possible."

JOHN 13:1-17, 31b-35   As he so often did, John told a story, then followed
it with words attributed to Jesus to show what his actions meant.  In this
instance, he gave the one report in the four gospels of a practice which
may well have been followed in the community for which John wrote at the
end of the 1st century CE.  This practice did not become one of the
Christian sacraments along with baptism and the Lords's Supper. 

It remains a mystery why John would have lifted up this practice as having
been instituted on the night before Jesus' death while omitting the Lord's
Supper entirely from his narrative.  On the other hand,  John did present
the case for the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in another
context.  It is contained in the discourse following the feeding of the
five thousand in ch. 6.  We also find an oblique reference to baptism in
Jesus' reply to Peter when he wanted Jesus to wash not only his feet, but
his hands and his head (13:8-11).

One other reference to washing feet as a common practice in the early
church occurs in 1 Timothy 5:10.  This points to Christ's command to wash
one another's feet having been understood from the beginning in a literal
sense.  The passage implies that a widow to be honoured and consecrated in
the Church should be one "well attested for her good works... (if) she
washed the saints' feet."  There is good reason to believe that this
Pastoral Letter was written early in the 2nd century CE although possibly
including some selections by Paul himself.  So the practice would have been
continued in much the same way that baptism and the Lord's Supper continued
because they had been instituted by Christ. 

In succeeding  centuries the church never entirely forsook the practice. 
It is traceable in the writings of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Ambrose and
Augustine, although it was not common in either Rome or the East.  In
medieval monasteries, however, it did have a special  place.  Later, it
became a papal custom on Maundy Thursday to wash the feet of twelve sub-
deacons after celebrating the Mass and of thirteen poor men after his
dinner.  After the Reformation, the practice all but disappeared from the
Protestant tradition except in isolated instances.  In recent years the
practice has been revived as a valuable contribution to more meaningful
celebrations of Holy Week.

In words attributed to Jesus, John explained what the practice meant.  It
is an expression of willingness to serve as Jesus himself did.  It is also
an expression of love for one another within the Christian community. 
Later in John's record of events in the upper room, after Jesus had
dismissed Judas Iscariot, Jesus went on to speak of his glorification and
to give the remaining disciples his final commandment to love one another
as he had loved them.  In some ways, it is surprising that the symbolism of
feet washing has not remained as one of the ordinances of the church
instituted by Christ. 

copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.

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