Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Maundy Thursday 03/29/2018

During The Great Three Days that begin with our worship tonight, we remember some of the events that were part of Jesus’ last pre-resurrection days. We tell the stories and with that, we remember…but especially tonight, we do more than retell and remember; we also re-enact. Our worship tonight is perhaps the most ritual centric service of the year.

One of tonight’s rituals is the one we do at almost every worship service as we re-enact and participate in Jesus’ last meal with his disciples sharing in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We’re familiar with that but tonight there’s more re-enactment. At most of our worship services we hear words of forgiveness spoken at the end of the confession and that was true tonight as well. But in a more physical way we’ve also experienced forgiveness of sins with the laying on of hands and individual absolution. Tonight we also hear Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you,” but again we don’t just hear it. We also see that kind of humble, self giving love as feet are washed re-enacting what Jesus did with his disciples.

In our final ritual, we will watch as the altar is stripped, action that symbolically represents Jesus’ humiliation as he is mocked and placed on trial and stripped of his dignity. We listen as Psalm 22 is chanted and we watch until nothing is left but the shadow of a cross draped in black. As the service ends tonight, that cross is where Jesus is headed with those who conspire against him assuming that the story is over.

These rituals are central to what we do tonight, but we Lutherans still tend to be a very word oriented group. The words of the scripture readings, the words of the sermon, the words of the hymns and anthems are important to us and for many of us, it is through these words and the ideas and images they create that we experience God’s presence with us. The heavy emphasis on ritual does make tonight’s worship a little different, but as always there are words as well.

There are words that recall the institution of the first Passover meal as Moses prepared the people for their departure from slavery in Egypt. There are words that recall Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples including what we call the “words of institution” of Holy Communion, “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” There are words that recall Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”

In addition to that, there are the words of the two psalms that are part of tonight’s worship and I think that is worth thinking about because as Jesus himself experienced the events that we recall and re-enact tonight, if there were words of scripture going through his mind, it is most probable that they were words from the Psalms, the prayer book of ancient Israel. Twice from the cross Jesus quotes from the psalms, first with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” the opening words of Psalm 22 and then “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” from Psalm 31.

Psalm 22 is probably the one most closely associated with Maundy Thursday with it being chanted at the end of the service. Situated where it is though, at the end, Psalm 22 serves more as a transitional psalm that moves us from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday. Psalm 116 is the one that is actually assigned for Maundy Thursday and it’s a good one to spend some time with.

Strangely enough, it’s a psalm of thanksgiving and giving thanks is probably not the first thing that comes to mind on Maundy Thursday. The verse that gets my attention though, is “The cords of death entangled me; the anguish of the grave came upon me; I came to grief and sorrow.” Jesus had to know that as he prepared to celebrate the Passover with his disciples the noose was tightening. Out in the Galilean countryside the powers that be could more or less ignore him; but having entered Jerusalem and being seen as a threat to both the religious and political authorities, he couldn’t be ignored any more. The cords of death were in fact entangling him and, being familiar with the psalms, it’s not hard to imagine Jesus saying these words or at least having them cross his mind.

We can’t know for sure, but either way, for us this psalm provides a pattern and model of prayer for those times when it feels like the cords of death are entangling us. It’s not likely that any of us will face the kind of deathly entanglement that Jesus experienced on Maundy Thursday but we do know about powers and forces that tempt us, habits that are hard to break, all of them cords of death that seem to trap us and keep us from being who we want to be, who God wants us to be, cords of death that prevent us from having the future God wants for us.

For all of us, we sometimes experience those cords of death; sadly for some they can feel like that’s all there is and there’s no hope on the other side. For any of us though, it may be at those entangled times that we find it most difficult to pray but the psalmist of both Psalm 116 and Psalm 22 shows us a way, a way that brings us to that hope on the other side, hope that defines who we are as Christians.

In both of them there is the assurance that the Lord is listening. In Psalm 116, even as the cords of death entangle him, the psalmist says, “I love the Lord who has heard my voice and listened to my supplication.” After the despair at the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” later there is recognition that when those in distress cry out, the Lord hears them.

In both of the psalms, something happens; there is a move from distress to hope, a move triggered by the prayer of the psalmist, something that brings him back into the land of the living. In both them, it is clear that honest prayer in the midst of trouble is a necessary part of the faith journey. That raw and daring honesty helps to bring about the move from distress to thanksgiving, so that both psalms end in worship and praise.

On Maundy Thursday the changing mood of these psalms is quite appropriate, providing something of a background chorus for the rituals of the night. There is a somberness about what we do here tonight, as the cords of death entangle Jesus and crucifixion is imminent and that somberness is reflected in the despair and honesty that begins each of tonight’s psalms. But even with that somberness, we will still give thanks as we celebrate Holy Communion. The cup of salvation lifted up in Psalm 116, becomes the cup Jesus offered to his disciples, the cup that we share again as it is lifted tonight. Each of us will hear the words, “Given for you; shed for you,” and like the psalmists, we too know that something has happened, and we give thanks.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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