Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Midweek Moment

We are halfway through Holy Week now, with our wonderful celebrations of Palm Sunday behind us and moving toward Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For Pastor Daryl and I, Lenten observances were a huge part of our heritage growing up. But what I have found in my time as a United Methodist pastor is that many people in our churches today come from denominations where Lent was not celebrated or practiced at all. And even in some United Methodist churches, the observances of Lent and Holy Week services can be hit or miss. So today I wanted to focus upon the meaning and significance of both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Maundy Thursday is known by several names depending upon the religious tradition that you come from - Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Sheer Thursday. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, always falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples as described in the Gospels (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 12-14). This Last Supper experience is significant because the reason for Jesus' gathering that night was to celebrate the festival of Passover, commemorating God's faithfulness in rescuing the Israelites from the last plague (death of the firstborn son) before their release from slavery in Egypt. And at the end of the regular Passover celebration, Jesus instituted what Christians now celebrate as communion, as he made reference to the coming sacrifice of his life and asked that we continue with this observance "in remembrance of me." Probably the number one question I get from people about Maundy Thursday, is what the word Maundy means. Maundy comes from the Latin word Mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" - meaning "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you." This was the statement that Jesus made that evening to his disciples when he explained the significance of washing their feet before their Passover celebration.

That brings us to Good Friday, also known by several names - Holy Friday, Great Friday, or Black Friday. It is the sixth day of Holy Week, always falling on the Friday before Easter. It marks the day of Jesus trials after his arrest, his beating and subsequent death upon the cross (crucifixion) as found in the Gospels (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19). Again there is an issue with the name. Why on earth do we call the day that our Savior died as "Good Friday?" That is really only the name in the English language and many people believe it's an derivative of an old German phrase "Gottes Freitag," meaning God's Friday. Others point to the idea that while Holy Friday with Jesus' death is so terrible, it is good because it led to the resurrection of Jesus by God on Easter Sunday and brings new life to those who believe. Typically worship services on Good Friday are very subdued, in which Christ's death is remembered with solemn hymns, prayers of thanksgiving, a message centering on Christ's suffering for our sake and often communion. In many churches, the sanctuary is stripped of its paraments decorating the altar and pulpit, leaving things stark and bare for a greater contrast to the pomp and celebration tone of Easter Sunday.

Here our custom at Community is to hold a Maundy Thursday service in the evening and strip the church bare at the end of it. We will be observing Maundy Thursday tomorrow evening at 7pm in the sanctuary. Recently the United Methodist pastors in the area have begun a combined worship service for Good Friday and we will hold a worship service at noon on Friday at New Covenant UMC. 

I hope no matter what your background with Lent is that you will consider being a part of one of these observances as we continue to move through Holy Week towards the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday morning. 

Blessings, 

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