Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week: "Behold the Man" on Maundy Thursday

Dear friends,

Today is Maundy Thursday, when we remember the last Passover supper (where Jesus ate with his disciples, washed their feet and encouraged them about the future), his prayers and his betrayal by Judas at the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, and, in the wee hours of the next morning, his trial and Peter's denial.  You can read all of this in John 13-19.

The name "Maundy" is derived from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning a commandment. At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded: "And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  And there also he set the example of servant-hearted love by washing their dirty feet, saying: “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (See John 13.)   As a side note to this, I have done a lot of informal research on the abuse of spiritual authority within modern day religious movements.  One of the hallmarks of abusive organizations or families is a rigid hierarchy of roles and rules in which those at the bottom of the pile are expected to unquestioningly serve and obey and give to those above them. Jesus rebuked the legalistic Pharisees of his day for much the same attitudes and behavior. Wouldn't it be helpful for many present day Pharisees to remember that it is the Lord himself who served us, and that instead of demanding respect and obedience, that they should instead model humility, mutual submission, and service out of a genuine love for God and fellow man?  Should the gospel bring true liberty or more religious bondage?  Should we follow Jesus or mere man?  As the apostle Peter wrote in chapter 5 of his first epistle: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."


But back to the Bible story...  When I taught middle school English in a home school co-op, I usually gave them special assignments for Holy Week, with literature, art, poetry, music and writing.  Here is a small taste of what they learned on one of the days:

The painting "The Last Supper" (above) is by Leonardo da Vinci. He painted it in 1498 on the refectory (dining room) wall in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It is 15 feet high and 29 feet long! Click on the picture to enlarge it.  Pay attention to the details in the picture!
All four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) include the story of the "Last Supper" but each one differs in how they present what happened. Read Matthew 26:17-35Mark 14:12-31, and John 13:1-37.  Can you find at least one detail in each passage that wasn't in the others? What parts of the story do all of them include? What is one thing that you can apply in your own life from these passages?
Read about Gethsemane and the trial at Matthew 26:36-75
The painting "Ecce Homo" is by Swiss artist, Antonio Ciseri (October 25, 1821 – March 8, 1891). You can click on it to enlarge it. "Ecce Homo" means "Behold the Man." The scene is Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate has already had Jesus scourged, then mockingly dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns.  He then presents Jesus to the crowd, with the words, "Behold the man!"  He asks the crowd if Jesus should be released, and spurred on by their religious leaders they yell, "Crucify!"  Pilate listens to the crowd rather than choosing what he knows is right - justice for an innocent man. But even this was in God's eternal plan, for Jesus was willingly offering himself up as the sacrifice for our sins so we could be shown mercy and grace instead of the just judgement that we deserved. 


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