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Maundy Thursday 2021

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a Covid World

Maundy Thursday is always going to have elements of Throwback Thursday! We are remembering… looking back…

The day before Good Friday is called Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word: mandatumMandatum means something that is commanded. We find it in an English word like “mandatory” – something that is required.

It is called Maundy Thursday because on that day Jesus commanded three things: 1) to remember him in holy communion with bread and wine 2) to love others as Jesus loves us and 3) to humbly wash each other’s feet.

Maundy, mandatum, mandatory – we are thinking about commands, rules, about laws.

I think there are at least two types of rules, two types of laws. I’ll call them “Type 1 laws” and “Type 2 laws”.

Type 1 laws are rules we make up ourselves. Like the rules we make up to play a game – WE design the rules; these are a human construct.

Type 2 laws are laws of the universe, rules of reality. We don’t make them up. We discover them. [Clearly, theists believe that these are rules that God has made up].

So do you get my distinction? The changes to the scrum rules in rugby – that’s about Type 1 laws. The way that a rugby ball bounces on the field – that’s physics, Type 2 laws.

Now, some people get really intense about the Type 1 laws – the rules we make up ourselves. Tinker with them, change them, at your peril!

I suggest that Jesus, if you pay attention to his overall story, to the big picture of what he was on about, I suggest he had little to no concern about our human, made-up Type 1 laws. He wanted to get across, though his life and teaching, the Type 2 laws of the universe; the Type 2 laws of reality.

And so Jesus upset the people, most of us, who focus on the Type 1 laws; who get irate if someone starts questioning or tinkering with our Type 1 laws. Jesus so upset people that they did away with him. They got rid of him.

But Easter proclaims that even in his death Jesus revealed, Jesus manifested, the deep-down Type 2 laws of the universe, of reality.


Those of us who read the daily Eucharistic readings (these must be the world’s most read-together daily biblical texts) are on our third week of reading from John’s Gospel. Daily, we’ve been hearing negative statements about “the Jews”. Tomorrow, Good Friday, all that will come to a head in John’s Passion narrative.

When it comes to Judaism, Christians need to be particularly careful. Especially in Holy Week.

Whenever one group is in the majority (especially when in the vast majority), great caution needs to be exercised in relation to the minority in our midst. Mocking and scapegoating are integral to many majority reactions to differences with the minority.

I am an advocate of the reading of St John’s Passion on Good Friday, but at the very least there should be a notice clear for all that

The term “the Jews” in St. John’s Gospel whilst generally at that time a title for Judeans, applies in this context to particular individuals rather than the whole Jewish people. Insofar as we ourselves turn against Christ, we are responsible for his death.

Ἰουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi), translated as “Jews” (NRSV, for example), has three meanings: (i) members of the tribe of Judah; (ii) Judeans (contrasting, for example, with Galileans or Samaritans); (iii) Jews (contrasting with followers of other religions). Both Tree of Life Bible: The New Covenant and Complete Jewish Bible use the word “Judean” (or “The Judean leaders”) to possibly better translate Ἰουδαῖοι in John’s Passion narrative.

We should all be aware of the Christian reactions, historically, of persecution of Jews after hearing John’s Passion narrative. And none of us can forget the Shoah, the Holocaust, where this all ultimately led.

Also, this is the time of year when some Christians organise their own Passover Seder. There are several articles cautioning against doing so. Here are a couple off this site:
Why Christians should not host their own passover seders
Say no to Christian seders

Study the Jewish Passover Seder by all means – but take care about attempts at replicating it.

If you are lucky enough to have Jewish friends or family, and are invited to a seder, you may find that sitting as a minority amongst a table full of people who are part of a community that has celebrated Passover for hundreds of years, many of whom have eaten these foods every year since they were born—and with individuals who look forward to this holy feast with the same anticipation many of us feel for Christmas—you will sing Dayenu and feel that truly, the blessings that God has extended to you are enough and you do not need more.

I would add to these points that we Christians have our own, perfectly good liturgical rites to celebrate Christ’s last week, death, and resurrection. Here are some:
Maundy Thursday
Good Friday
Easter Vigil

I also want to emphasise that celebrating a “Christian Passover Seder”, say on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), confuses Christian understanding. Christianity applies the Jewish passover paradigm not to Maundy Thursday but to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not Maundy Thursday that, by itself, celebrates the “Christian Passover”. In fact, the Christian tradition is quite clear. The Sacred Triduum is one ongoing service beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday, the service stopping without a dismissal. On Good Friday, we pick the service up again, beginning without a greeting, and stopping again without a dismissal. This long service with interruptions only concludes with the Easter Vigil.

This is not even entering the discussion whether Jesus’ last meal was, in fact, a Passover Seder:
Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal – Why Christians shouldn’t either.

Finally, an e-friend of mine, Jane Redmont, posted a strong caution to her friends about the way many Christians talk about Jews. Jane is a theologian, spiritual director, retreat leader, and author. She runs this website. I have her permission to copy what she said:

Once more, with feeling: crucifixion was a ROMAN punishment.

Jesus was a Jew. The Twelve were Jews. The women who followed and supported Jesus were Jews. The canonical gospels (i.e. the ones that ended up in the Christian Testament) reflect first-century communal and theological tensions and conflicts within the early Jesus movement. The Pharisees were not the equivalent of our latter-day fundamentalist Christians. They were the ancestors of the great and humane traditions of Rabbinic Judaism. The Gospels are neither a news report nor the transcript of the videotapes. We don’t have the videotapes. There were no videotapes. There is only the community of the friends of Jesus –in its many forms throughout earthly geography and history– and the Holy Spirit. And, with them, careful study and looking beyond our own noses.

Please — and religious “liberals,” I am talking to you (again) — please stop implying that the most religious Jews killed Jesus. Were there religious Jews, including some with power in their community, who lived in collusion with the Roman Empire occupiers? Of course. But that’s not the same thing. And please quit trashing the Pharisees and using “Pharisee” to mean “hypocrite” or any other insult. Read some history. Think critically. That’s what we do, right?

Texts have a history before they are written. They exist in the form in which they were written and edited. And they have a life after they were written and edited. That life, those interpretations, can have and have had death-dealing consequences –actions.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the texts for Passiontide, Holy Week, and Easter and their interpretations in Christian, Jewish, and national histories.

How is Easter calculated

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7 thoughts on “Maundy Thursday 2021”

  1. Kia ora Bosco. Thanks for this. I found the understanding of Ioudaioi as Judean helpful when engaging with John in Greek class. On this topic, I have on my to read list: Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John by Adele Reinhartz.

  2. So what brought me to your website at quarter to one in the morning: I was looking for liturgical words that would be appropriate for a meal and foot washing done at our home with some Muslim friends tonight. I saw elsewhere you linked foot washing to baptism. Just wondering if you were aware of any resource that would be appropriate for this context, or if you even thought it was appropriate at all.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. There is too little information for me to make a reasonable comment. What is the purpose of Christians and Muslims gathering on Maundy Thursday, mirroring central events in the Christian story of that day (meal and footwashing)? How do the Muslims present understand what they are being part of? How do the Christians understand what they are being part of? Your search for “liturgical” words highlights that your event is being understood, at least by some present, as a sacred, interfaith event. Blessings.

  3. Over the past few years I developed Charcot Foot Arthropathy as a complication of diabetes- it feels very much like the man in your cartoon!

    I smile these days at how many rituals would have to be adapted for me due to ill health and disability and wonder if over long history that’s one reason the ideas and faiths become intermingled and nothing’s ever wasted…

    1. At the Good Friday service, yesterday, I noticed how many different ways people reverenced the cross – and how those at the chancel step with the cross adapted and helped people to do what each wanted to do. The variety was due to people’s physical reality and also to differences in personality/spirituality. All was done lovingly, reverently, without fuss. Maybe we are slowly beginning to learn that uniformity is not the way, and diversity is positive. Blessings.

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