• Holy Week: Chapter 5: Maundy Thursday

    by  • 7 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 1 Comment

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    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

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    Matthew 26:17–29

    The Last Supper

    (17) On the first day of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Where do you want us to prepare the Passover­ meal?’ (18) He said, ‘Go into the town, you know to whom, and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. With you will I celebrate the Passover festival with my disciples”.’ (19) And the disciples carried out the directions Jesus had given them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

    (20) And in the evening he sat down to the meal with the twelve disciples. (21) And while they were eating he said, ‘Yes, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ (22) Then they became very sad and asked him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ (23) He answered, ‘He who dips the bread with me in the dish will betray me. (24) The Son of Man must die, as the scriptures also say about him. But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! For that man it would be better if he had never been born.’ (25) Then said Judas who betrayed him, ‘Is it I, Master?’ And Jesus said, ‘You said it.’

    (26) And while they were eating, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take and eat, this is my body.’ (27) And he took the cup, blessed it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Drink of it, all of you, (28) for this is the blood of the covenant; it is shed for many for the overcoming of the sickness of sin. (29) And I say to you: From now on I will no longer drink of this gift of the vine until the day when I, in renewed form, drink it with you in the realm of my Father.’

    John 17

    The High Priestly prayer

    When he had said this, Jesus raised his vision to the spirit and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; reveal the being of your Son, so that your Son may reveal your being. (2) You have made him the creating power in all earthly human bodies, that he may give true life to all who came to him through you. (3) And the true life is this, that they recognize you as the one true Ground of the World, and Jesus Christ as the one whom you have sent to them. (4) I have revealed your being on the earth and have fulfilled the task which you have given me to do. (5) And now, Father, Ground of the World, let my being be revealed in the light which shone about me in your presence, before the world yet was. (6) I have made manifest your name to those human beings who have come out of the world to me through you. Yours they were, and you have given them to me, and they have kept your word in their inmost being. (7) Thus they have recognized that everything which you have given me is from you; (8) for all the power of the word which you have given me, I have brought to them. They have taken it into themselves and have recognized in deepest truth that I come from you, and they have come to believe that I have been sent by you. (9) I pray to you for them as individual human beings, not for mankind in general. Only for the human beings which you have given me, because they belong to you. (10) Everything that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, and the light of my being can shine in them. (11) I am now no longer in the world of the senses; but they are still in the world of the senses. And I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep, through the power of your being, those who came to me through you, so that they may become one, as we are one. (12) As long as I have been with them, I have kept and sheltered, through the power of your being, those who came to me through you, and none of them has been lost except he who was born to be an instrument of destruction; and so scripture has been fulfilled. (13) Now I am coming to you, and I am saying these words while I am still among humankind, so that my joy may be fulfilled in them. (14) I have brought them your word; but other people have hated them because they are not of their world, as I, also, am not of their world. (15) My prayer is not that you should take them out of the earthly world, but that you protect them from the evil. (16) They are not of the earthly world, as I, also, am not of that world. (17) Hallow them through the truth. Your word is Truth. (18) As you sent me into the world, so now I have sent them into the world. (19) And I consecrate myself for them, so that they may be consecrated in truth. (20) And not only for them do I pray to you, but also for those who will unite with me through their proclamation, (21) so that they may all be one; as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they shall be one in us, so that the world may come to believe that you have sent me. (22) I have given them the power of revelation which you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (23) I am in them, and you are in me, and so they are consecrated to become perfectly one, so that the world may recognize that you have sent me and that you love them as you love me.

    (24) ‘Father, Ground of the World, that is my will: That those whom you have given me may ever be with me where I am and that there they will behold the revelation of my being which you, in your love, have given me before the world was. (25) Exalted Father, earthly human beings have not recognized you; but I have recognized you, and these have recognized that you sent me. (26) I have revealed your name to them, and I will continue to reveal it, so that the love with which you have loved me may remain in them and so my being may be revealed in them.’

    Maundy Thursday

    On Maundy Thursday evening a holy stillness descends, and all the clamour of the first half of the week passes into silence. By day the sounds of swarming streets, the bargaining and noisy talking of thousands of Passover pilgrims, have reached their peak. Then, shortly before the deep red sun has sunk in the west, faced by the silver disc of the rising full moon, the trumpets sound from the Temple and give the signal for the beginning of the day of preparation. On the eve of the Passover, the faithful of the old covenant are preparing for the Sabbath, which begins on the following evening. In every house people gather round the table to eat the Passover lamb in the circle of their blood-relations. The streets are suddenly emptied and an oppressive silence falls. It is the curfew of Passover night, when the destroying angel is abroad, as once long ago, in Egypt.

    So Jesus and his disciples also withdraw to the room in which they are to celebrate the Passover. The stillness of this room is enhanced, for providence has brought them to no private dwelling, but to the house of the order of the Essenes. The Cenacle, which the Essene brotherhood has placed at the service of Jesus and his disciples for the eve of the Passover, stands on holy ground. Here, on Mount Zion, a sanctuary of humanity has existed from times immemorial. Immediately opposite, also on a traditional spot, stands the house of Caiaphas, the ancestral home of the Sadducean order. A circle has gathered there also to celebrate the Passover. They can scarcely give thought to the coming feast, for they are actively concerned with a plan of hatred and enmity. For a time the struggle must cease; the holy hour must first have passed. And so his enemies themselves give the order — ‘Seek to arrest him, but not at the Feast.’ In the room where Jesus is assembled with his disciples, the words of Psalm 23 are fulfilled: ‘Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.’

    The Passover lamb on the table in the Cenacle assumes a new meaning. At the table is seated the one of whom John the Baptist could say: ‘See, the Lamb of God, who takes the sin of the world upon himself’ (John 1:29). Nowhere in that hour nor ever before nor since, has the Passover lamb been so near to the one for whom it was an image. For thousands of years the eating of the Passover lamb was a prophetic custom, and now the fulfilment of the prophecy is at hand. The apostle Paul will presently be able to say, ‘Our passover lamb has been killed: that is Christ’ (1Cor.5:7). In the Cenacle, prophecy and fulfilment meet each other. A heavy foreboding fills the room; separation and tragedy rest in the air. Christ’s death of sacrifice throws its shadow before and the consciousness of the disciples has a heavy test to endure.

    The ancient tradition of blood-sacrifice has its symbol in the Passover lamb upon the table. The magic of the blood, signified by all pre-Christian blood-sacrifices, has an active power. It was believed that the shedding of the blood of pure sacrificial animals was able to transport people’s souls, formerly more loosely united with the body, into a state of ecstasy. Divine forces from the other world could then be reflected in human conditions. And now the ancient sacrifice loses its significance for ever in the Cenacle on Mount Zion. The divine being has now himself entered this world; therefore the old blood-sacrifice has become superfluous. The power which it was sought formerly to bring down from other worlds is now there, come to unite itself inseparably with this world. The Passover lamb has magical forces no longer, for in earth-existence itself a seed of heavenly forces is being formed. The lamb becomes the pure image of the sacrificial deed of divine love.

    On the table of the holy meal, however, there is also bread and wine. And when the ancient custom of the Passover meal has been observed, Christ takes, to the astonishment of the disciples, these other representatives of food and drink and adds a new meal to that ordained by the Old Testament. It is a new and unexpected deed when Christ gives to his disciples bread and wine and says: ‘Take, this is my body — this is my blood.’ But these symbols are not on the table by accident. Something comes to light which has always existed. Externally blood-sacrifices were carried out in the Temple in the presence of the people, but in hidden sanctuaries esoteric sun-mysteries had always been preserved, where bread and wine were the symbols of the sun god. On the very spot where now the circle were gathered at the Last Supper, the sanctuary of Melchizedek had stood, whence he took forth bread and wine and carried them down to the valley of Kidron to dispense them to Abraham. Now bread and wine became more than symbols. The divine sun-spirit is present in Christ, and as he distributes the bread he can say: ‘This is my body,’ and in handing the disciples the chalice: ‘This is my blood.’ His soul surrenders itself and streams into the bread and wine. In the twilight of the room bread and wine are enveloped with a shining sun-aura. Inasmuch as they become body and blood of the Christ soul, they become body and blood of the sun-spirit himself. All the sun-mysteries of antiquity were but prophecy; at this moment they grow into fulfilment. In the transition from the blood offerings of the past to the bloodless offering of bread and wine, the whole idea of sacrifice changed. Ancient sacrifices were always material offerings. Now the sacrifice of the soul is founded, and there begins the true tradition of inner sacrifice. The lunar sacrifices of antiquity are at an end; the solar sacrifice of Christianity comes into being. Christianity, the true sun religion, dawns in this evening hour.

    By performing significant acts before and after the meal, Christ brings about a fourfold whole, anticipating the four parts of the central Christian sacrament which thenceforward will be continually celebrated. Before the meal he follows the custom observed in the order of the Essenes and washes the feet of each of the disciples, even of Judas. A deeply moving picture, unfathomable in its full significance: Christ utterly surrendering himself in loving devotion, on which his death will soon set the seal. After the meal another ceremonial act is observed by Christ, this time in accord with the custom followed by all the neighbouring households at this hour. When the Passover has been eaten, the head of the family begins to recite from the Haggada, the history of the people from ancient times set down in legendary form. With Christ, too, the meal is followed by a discourse. This is recorded and gathered together by St John in the wonderful Farewell Discourse culminating in the High Priestly Prayer (John 17).

    Four stages are passed through: the washing of the feet, the Passover lamb, the bread and wine, and the Farewell Discourse. The washing of the feet sums up in a pictorial act the essence of Christ’s teaching: ‘This is the task I put before you, that you love one another’ (15:12). The washing of the feet is, as it were, the last of the parables, enacted, not merely spoken. It teaches love as the ultimate purpose of Christ’s gospel. The eating of the Passover lamb corresponds in the structure of the communion service to the stage of the Offering, which follows the Reading of the Gospel. The image of the Offering emerges: Christ the Passover Lamb who on the next day dies for humanity on the cross.Then comes the third stage: Christ gives the disciples bread and wine. For the first time Transubstantiation is consummated, forming the third part of the sacrament, after the Reading of the Gospel and the Offering. Now the spiritual lights up in earthly substance. In the Farewell Discourse, the fourth stage, Christ imparts to the disciples the most intimate information about his own being. These words are body and blood of Christ in a still higher degree than the bread and wine. The soul of Christ gives itself to the souls of the disciples who are only able to receive them as yet as though in a dream. Only John, who lies at the breast of Jesus, and listens to the speaking heart of Christ, is able in his gospel to preserve for humanity a reflection of this moment.

    Christ, from whom proceeds the stream of cosmic love, speaks at the same time as the spirit of wisdom. It is as though Jupiter, the god of wisdom, has appeared in new form among men.

    The sacred Round Table breaks up dramatically. It is a strict regulation of the Passover that on this night no one may leave the protection of the house. If he does so, he meets the destroying angel. The streets remain empty of people. In spite of this, at a certain moment, someone does go out; he does not delay after he has received the bread from Jesus’ hand. St John’s Gospel adds: ‘It was night.’ It was also night within Judas; at this moment Satan entered into him. Judas goes to the house opposite, where Caiaphas and his circle are keeping the Passover. They are ready and eager for the business that Judas wants to transact.

    The soul of Judas founders on the mystery of the sacrament. On the evening before, as the sacramental mood unfolded in the house at Bethany, he was already seized with the demon of unrest. In the Cenacle he has met the sacramental substance for the second time. Peace within himself would alone enable him to receive the blessing of peace through the sacrament, but this he does not possess. So that which could dispense peace to him serves to throw him into the final restlessness, into the Ahrimanic displacing of the ego, and possession.

    Once more the Passover is broken. Jesus rises from the table and beckons to the astonished disciples. They follow him out into the night, where the light of the full moon had for some time been almost extinguished. It is passing through an eclipse. The frosty chills of winter giving place to spring begin to be felt as Jesus goes with his disciples to Gethsemane.

    The two acts of going-out-into-the-night symbolize inner events. The going out of Judas shows that his true self has abandoned him; outside he meets the angel of death in reality. Ahrimanic spirits make him their pawn. The going-out of Christ is a picture of the free surrender of the soul which has been from the beginning the cosmic bearer of sacrifice. As Judas goes out, the gospel says, ‘It was night’ and the soul of Judas is also shrouded in night. As the Christ goes out, one could say, ‘It was day.’ A golden shimmer mingles with the chilly night as the Christ goes down with the disciples the same path into the valley that was trodden two thousand years before by Melchizedek, carrying down bread and wine.

    The shining aura which people saw radiating from the being of Christ on Palm Sunday has now contracted into much deeper levels. No one perceives it, yet the world receives a new glory on this holy evening, which is more an Easter Eve than an eve of Good Friday. On that other Thursday, Ascension day six weeks later, the seed of light, whose growth began in the Cenacle, will have already spread over the whole earth with cosmic power.

    Continue to Chapter 6: Good Friday

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