The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11, 23 – 26)
There is so much to think about on Maundy Thursday. Leonardo da Vinci’s picture of the Last Supper depicts the moment just after Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray him. Judas goes out into the night. Jesus and the others go to Gethsemane. He is arrested. The disciples run away.
But, above all, we remember Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass – whatever name we choose to call it. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, Jesus feeds us with himself.
For those who are feeling the loss of sharing Communion this week, the Book of Common Prayer instructs us that ‘if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically.’ This is called “Spiritual Communion”, though perhaps nowadays we might call it “Virtual Communion”. The Church’s latest advice continues “The Church of which we are members is not defined by the walls of a building but by the Body of Christ of which we are members. In making our communion spiritually, we are joining with Christians everywhere to be nourished by the one who tells us, ‘I am the Bread of Life’.’”
The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum” meaning “commandment”. At the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” and he demonstrated something of what he meant by washing their feet.
Strangely this year we are showing our love for one another by keeping at a distance. But Jesus is always close to us, and as we come to him we come close to each other spiritually.
Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners.
So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son,
that he may live in us and we in him;
and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom.
Revd David Newman