Sleep on This: Maundy Thursday (April 9)
Good evening, friend.
We call this “Maundy Thursday,” taken from the Latin word mandatum which means “commandment.” On the last night they shared together, Jesus told his disciples he had a “new commandment” for them: that they love one another as he had loved them. Of course, in those last moments, they had no idea of the depth of that love. Twenty-four hours later, they certainly would as Jesus’s body lay in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
By now, many of you will have joined our virtual Maundy Thursday service, including the taking of communion in your own homes. (If you did not, you may still do so here). I can’t help but wonder if the locked-down nature of our present situation allows us to further understand the secrecy and angst of the last supper in a new way. Jesus’ countenance and words were unsettling to the disciples. They didn’t quite know what was going on, but sensed it was momentous, something they would never forget.
As we commemorate this service in the privacy of our homes surrounded by our most intimate relations and sharing the sacrament around a kitchen table, may I suggest that we have re-lived that night in perhaps a more genuine way that we ever have before? Thank God for this opportunity.
I turn now to the later events of that night. Jesus, praying alone in Gethsemane as his heavy-lidded disciples doze near him. Their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak, Jesus said. I understand that admonition. Vigilant prayer is not my forte. But tomorrow, I am determined to stretch those spiritual muscles. I will host a day of prayer and fasting in which we ask for God’s mercy upon our nation and our world in this time of uncertainty. Every hour on the hour, beginning at 6:00 am and ending at 9:00 pm, I will appear on Facebook Live to announce the topic of the hour, offer a few remarks and lead us in prayer. Go to our Facebook page, like it, and mark that you are “interested” or “going” to the Good Friday Day of Prayer event, you’ll get notifications every time we go live.
Honestly…this daunts me. But I will try because, again honestly, I don’t usually spend a lot of time deeply reflecting on Good Friday. I think each year about the cross of Jesus…for a while…but rarely engage in an intentional spiritual journey throughout the entire day. Perhaps because I’m not sure that I want to think about all that Jesus endured on that day. I’d rather jump right to the celebration of Easter! We all would!
But we never really “get” Easter if we don’t pause on Good Friday. All that transpired on that day was the price of salvation from my sin-sickness. It reminds me of the depth of God’s love for me. In this present crisis, it also reminds me that our God never remains aloof from the suffering of his world, but rather enters deeply into it.
“Why does God allow suffering?” This is perhaps the most common spiritual question with the most elusive answer. But it is not just Christianity on the hook for an answer. EVERY world religion… and every irreligion, frankly…must grapple with the issue of suffering, pain, plague and death. The Christian response is this: “We cannot explain the existence of evil and suffering in the world…but we have a God who has entered into that suffering. Who drank that cup to the dregs! No one can look upon the cross of Jesus and say that God does not understand our pain. And what he has shared with us, he has redeemed for us.”
Please join me tomorrow in this journey of prayer. As for fasting, it is a practice that Jesus encouraged in which we choose to deprive ourselves of food for a time as an act of sacrifice. Every time your tummy rumbles, it is a call to prayer. And when you break your fast, you do so with renewed gratitude for the gifts of God. You may fast the entire day or for one meal. You may drink juices as a way to sustain you. This is not a legalism but an invitation to give up some good things so that you might focus on the best.
Lord, as I lay me down to sleep, I am reminded of the sleeplessness of this night for you. You agonized in prayer, you were arrested, beaten and mocked, you were held in a dungeon and subjected to all manner of degradation…all for your love of me. What wondrous love! Thank you. Grant me good rest this night secure in the knowledge of how precious I am to you. Amen.