Maundy Thursday

Daily Reading for April 9 • Maundy Thursday

All the meals Jesus shared with his followers, and not merely the Last Supper, were seen by the early Christians as expressing not only human fellowship but also the divine acceptance of the participants in the present and the promise of their ultimate place in God’s kingdom.

The accounts of the Last Supper, and also some of the references to meals elsewhere in the New Testament, reveal a pattern that adheres to the common custom followed at all Jewish formal meals. This pattern has been called by some scholars a ‘sevenfold shape’: at the beginning of the meal, the head of the household, acting on behalf of the gathering, (1) took bread into his hands, (2) said a short blessing, (3) broke the bread, and (4) shared it with all present; and at the end of the meal, he again (5) took a cup of wine into his hands, (6) said a longer form of blessing over it, and (7) shared it with all around the table. . . .

Ritual meals like this were powerful expressions of the concept of the participants’ communion with one another and with God. Their presence at this meal was a sign of their reconciliation to God and their membership among the elect who would one day feast together in God’s kingdom, and the intimate fellowship with one another that they experienced around the table was a foretaste, an anticipation, of the union that they would enjoy for ever with God. The whole meal event was thus both a prophetic symbol of the future and also a means of entering into that future in the present.

From Early Christian Worship: A Basic Introduction to Ideas and Practice by Paul Bradshaw (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996).

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