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Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 26:36–46
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” (NRSV)
Of all of the days in the Christian year, the next three days are perhaps the most important and sobering. We Christians call these next three days the Holy Triduum (the Three Days)—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. These three days give us a glimpse into both the best and the worst aspects of being a living, breathing, feeling human. The church sets these days aside so to invite us to enter into the Passion—the suffering and death—of Jesus Christ.
Today, Maundy Thursday, we stand at the threshold of joy and sorrow, covenant and betrayal, life and death. There is perhaps no more day so aligned with our human reality and complications—and our liturgy proves it. As soon as we finish feasting at the Lord’s Table, we hear the haunting clank of soldiers’ boots on the garden’s path and face the looming trauma and pain of the cross. The lights dim. The candles extinguish. The organ wanes. And we scatter in silence with no benediction for our liturgy continues through the Great Vigil.
At the onset of these days, Jesus asks his disciples—he asks us—to stay awake, to watch, to keep vigil, and quite honestly, that’s hard. The next three days we will encounter the very rawness of life and death. Through word and song, bread and cup, rising and falling, we will enter into the very depths of this Christian life and face the reality of pain, betrayal, and death. It would be easier to look away or to escape into slumber. But to enter the glory of these days, to sit and watch, is to enter the heart of Christian faith. In doing so, we prepare ourselves to face anew the reality of this life—with all of its pain and sorrow—but also to wait for the hope and joy found in the life to come.
Almighty God, whose Son went not up to joy but first suffered pain, grant that we, being watchful, may live into these days fully facing the mystery of death so to ready us for the mystery of life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Written by Shawn M. Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship
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