Celebrating What? Maundy Thursday Reflections on Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14

The Passover celebration is a memorial to the safekeeping of the Israelites by their God during the terrible night of the death of the firstborn of Egypt. Those of us who are not Jews can never fully appreciate how crucial this celebration has been to our Jewish sisters and brothers during too many long nights of horror as various enemies of Judaism threatened and murdered Jews wantonly and absurdly from England to Spain to France to Germany over more than two millennia. It will not do for us non-Jews merely to argue historically about the monstrous idea that YHWH chose to kill all the Egyptians in order to spare the chosen Israel, as troubling as that may be. The Passover celebrates freedom and life and safety for a deeply persecuted people.

But still, what are we celebrating on Maundy Thursday? The Passover focuses on freedom and safety, but it also focuses on the need for community. Note Exodus 12:4: "If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it." Small families do not need a whole lamb; larger families need more than a whole lamb. Why not join forces and eat together, in order that all may have proportionately enough? Why not focus our Maundy Thursday on the poor, so that those of us who have more than we need can share with those who do not have enough? Why not emphasize, when we wash the feet of our fellow worshippers, that all people have basic needs that need to be met, including simple cleanliness, a cleanliness that can be offered by others in community?

In Exodus' Passover, in John's foot washing, and in the king's distribution of alms, Maundy Thursday becomes a celebration of the glorious community of equality of goods and equality of service.

I hope your church has a Maundy Thursday service this year, and I hope you go and participate in it. Such rich community symbolism and action are simply not to be missed!

12/2/2022 9:10:31 PM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.