Maundy Thursday, Year A

Maundy Thursday, Year A

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


The word Maundy in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin, meaning command. In this case, of coarse it refers to Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, where, he gives his disciples a new commandment—namely, that they love one another as he has loved them. This love for one another is possible because God, in the person of Christ, first loved us. Thus it is a sacrificial love and a sacramental love. A love that in other words that goes all out to give of one’s self in the service of others. A love that reveals the very presence of God among us.


Here we are drawn into the life of Jesus as he went about proclaiming the Good News in his actions and his words. We remember how he attracted others like a strong magnet to listen to his teachings; to come to him to be healed and freed of blindness, deafness, lameness, leprosy, and all manner of illness; to receive the forgiveness of sins and be given a new, fresh beginning in life. All of these demonstrated his sacrificial love in word and action.


Then there was his sacramental love, as he sat down at table in the upper room to celebrate the Passover with his disciples for the last time, on the first Maundy Thursday long ago. Here, he surprised everyone, as he took bread and wine, the common Passover elements and spoke new words; giving this meal a new meaning. This was a Passover different from others: now he spoke of the broken bread as being his body, and the cup of wine being his blood. Now, in these memorable actions, Jesus instituted a new sacrament for his followers to celebrate in the future, until the end of time. Now, in these words and actions of Jesus, we partake of his sacramental love—as we celebrate his meal of a new covenant, we remember that his presence is revealed to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. This is a deep mystery, which we shall never totally comprehend. Yet, it is a mystery that draws us closer to Jesus and one another in love, otherwise the Lord’s Supper would never have survived beyond the first generation of disciples.


The meal Christ instituted on that first Maundy Thursday has, down through the centuries, accumulated a host of meanings. Tonight I invite you to explore with me the theme of thanksgiving and gratitude. Of course, one of the titles the church has given to the sacrament is the Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning to give thanks. In our psalm for tonight; which is one of the “Egyptian Hallel Psalms,” (Psalms 113-118), the psalmist gives thanks to God and shows gratitude to God because God has answered prayers and brought healing and deliverance from death and illness.



In verse twelve, the psalmist asks the question: “What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?” The question implies that there is no way, there is nothing the psalmist can give back to God that would equal the healing and love, the abundant favour God has given the psalmist. However, in the next two verses, the psalmist answers his own question, feeling that he definitely wants to do something as a small, particle token of thanksgiving and gratitude for what God has done, when he says: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” Lifting up the cup of salvation may possibly be a reference to a community festival celebration. Perhaps it was one of the four cups of the Passover celebration—for, as time went on, Israel adopted this psalm along with the other Hallel Psalms to be recited during the Passover. At any rate, for the psalmist, a “cup of salvation” would certainly have referred to being healed, regaining health and/or being rescued and delivered from harm. Of course, this theme of being rescued and delivered fits very well into the Passover celebrations—as Israel remembers, for all time, how God delivered and rescued them from their oppressive Egyptian slavery.


In choosing this psalm for Maundy Thursday, the church also touches on this them of being healed, regaining health, and being rescued and delivered. Jesus has done this for us through his Passion and death. Now we have health and wholeness, and freedom from sin, death and the powers of evil, thanks to Jesus and the sacrament he instituted for us. It is also interesting, and rather telling, that we Lutherans, in our Lutheran Book Of Worship, sing this psalm as an offertory in our Sunday liturgy just prior to the Great Thanksgiving. I believe this is, first of all, an acknowledgement of how influenced we Christians are by our Jewish roots—after which we model our worship. There is common ground between Christian and Jewish liturgical traditions. Christians need to be more aware of this fact and express their gratitude to the Jewish people. Second, I believe by regarding this psalm as an offertory, we are expressing our gratitude, like the psalmist for the fact that everything we have and are is a gift of loving grace from our God. We, like the psalmist, could never repay God back for the superabundant generosity towards us.  Nonetheless, like the psalmist, as a humble token of our gratitude and thanks to God, we offer what we are able in response, because in love we can’t help ourselves—we have to do it, no one can stop us.


This response of gratitude and thanks on our part was driven home to me, a few years ago, one Sunday, as my wife and myself were both co-officiating at worship, and our daughter, Anna, was sitting in the pew. When the offering was being collected, Anna saw the plates, and said out loud, with some urgency: “I need some money!” and she repeated her plea a second time: “I have to have some money.” Then, she moved out of the pew, and one of the parishioners a couple of pews behind gave her some coins and she happily ran down the aisle to the usher to give her offering to the LORD.


So, on this Maundy Thursday, may we also lovingly choose to show our gratitude and give our thanks for what the LORD has done for us.


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