Holy Week: Maundy Thursday Devotional
Curfew and family prayer – some thoughts on Exodus 12:1-14 for Maundy Thursday
It struck me that the Passover night might be the first documented curfew in history. Moses commanded the people of Israel ‘none of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning’. For on this night the Lord would send the destroyer to visit all the houses in Egypt. All the firstborns would be killed – except for those in houses with blood on the doorframe. These houses would be ‘passed over’ by the destroyer. Not because of heritage, faith, or good deeds of its inhabitants. But only because of the blood of a lamb at the doorframe.
This night the people of Israel celebrated the first Passover Seder, marking the start of the feast of the unleavened bread. Doing away all the leavened bread and starting with a new dough – an indication of a clean break with sin and a fresh start. The Seder meal marked the start of the curfew, as it was to be eaten in the family home – not in a community setting. Jewish tradition prescribes six different items of food, each relating to aspects of the life of hardship in Egypt. These include the roasted lamb and the bitter herbs and are accompanied with matzos (unleavened bread).
At the early stages of the meal a half-piece of matzo is broken and hidden in a cloth, to ‘reappear’ at the end of supper and be consumed as afikoman – the last piece of the meal. Maybe this afikoman was the bread that Lord gave His disciples. During the meal also four different cups of wine are used, associated with the four stages of redemption (Ex. 6:6-7): 1. I will bring you out, 2. I will free you, 3. I will redeem you, 4. I will take you as my own people. The third cup is consumed before the grace. It was this cup of redemption that the Lord gave His disciples during the last supper. And either this cup or the fourth cup after the supper – I will take you as my own people – was used by the Lord to instate the Eucharist. To redeem us and make us His own.
During the Seder the Haggada was read – the story of the exodus out of Egypt. Together with all the symbols in the Seder meal this was meant explicitly to raise questions of the children at the table about the way that the Lord delivered them from Egypt. In that sense the Seder meal is a beautiful example of the way we can organize our family prayers. Coming together in our own homes before the Lord each nightfall. Asking Him for His redemption and protection on basis of the blood of the Lamb who died for us. Confessing our sins (the bitter herbs) but also being joyful (the wine) over the Lords forgiveness and our salvation. Putting our prayers in the perspective of the promised land. With our cloaks tucked into our belts, sandals on our feet and a staff in our hand. As pilgrims, ready to depart at the Lords command. And designing our family prayers so that they stimulate questions from our children, allowing us to explain to them our faith in a crucified and risen Christ.
For on the evening of this Maundy Thursday, Jesus broke the curfew to give His life for us.
After celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples at nightfall, He took them into the garden of Gethsemane.
During this night He fought the ultimate battle and made His will completely subject to the Father. Now He had fully become the Passover Lamb, after having been set apart four days before, the day that He entered Jerusalem.
On Maundy Thursday I love to listen to the lamentations written by Palestrina for this day.
But if you are more into modern music, I cannot think of a more appropriate song for the day then The servant king
(or in Dutch: Hij kwam bij ons heel gewoon).
Another great recommendation for this week is the Passion by Adrian Snell.
Knowing us part of the Church universal in time and place, this is the post-communion prayer for Maundy Thursday from an almost 200 years old prayer book – and it is just as relevant today:
Almighty God, who in the institution of the Paschal Feast
didst command unto thy people to eat the same with bitter herbs;
vouchsafe unto us, that in commemorating His sacrifice, who is the true Paschal Lamb,
we may have such contrition of heart and such sympathy with His sorrows,
that our souls may through Thy grace be purified and strengthened
to go forwards in Thy fear, and in holiness of life;
to the glory of Thy holy Name,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. – Amen
To download the devotional to read off line:
 Compare the different descriptions in Luke 22:20, Matt. 26:27, Mark 14:22-23, 1 Cor. 11:23