It was yet another Passover meal—or was it? (Maundy Thursday, Year C)

The following liturgy was written in April 2022 and conducted at Tuggeranong Uniting Church on Maundy Thursday, 14 April 2022. The liturgy was conducted around a labyrinth, laid out in the worship area. There were six tables, each forming the focus of one section of the liturgy.

Seven candles were lit at the end of the first section, as reflective music played. Participants were invited to remove their shoes for the service, to sit and meditate or gently walk the labyrinth whilst the reflective music was playing.

After the words for each following section, a candle was extinguished, and reflective music was played, during which participants could sit and meditate, or walk a section of the labyrinth. Participants were encouraged to stay in their place on the labyrinth, or move to a nearby chair, as the words of each section were spoken.

The first and last sections took place focused around a table on which some cups, grapes, and bread were set, forming the elements for communion in the last section.

***** *****

A LITURGY FOR MAUNDY THURSDAY in the YEAR OF LUKE (Year C)

1 The Room

(Please remove your shoes)

Tonight, we gather, and remember;

we remember, and rejoice …

for it was Passover time.

Now of course, it began in celebration;

a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together;

but then, a kiss … a betrayal … a denial … a trial …

Yet it began in celebration.

For years, it was so; for decades, for centuries,

on this very night, we would gather, joined as family,

to remember, to rejoice, to recall the act of liberation.

So we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who have chosen us and made us holy,

a nation of priests, a people set apart.


Yes, we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who create the fruit of the vine.
Yes, we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who bring forth bread from the earth.

We praise you in the lighting of the candles,

signs of your presence amongst us tonight;

in these sparkling, enlivening lights,

we remember that we are a light to the nations.

THE CANDLES ARE LIT

SONG: Bless the Lord, my soul (Taize)

*****

2 The Road

It was yet another Passover meal — or was it?

We began like every other Passover meal;

we began by recalling the story …

and yet, although we did not know it,

this time it would be different;

a different Passover celebration;

a different time entirely.

It probably began with what he said

as he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

Looking back, we can hear the resonances;

the hints were there; but we were deaf.

We couldn’t grasp these words;

for the journey was the moment,

the crowds that surged as he healed,

the crowds that marvelled as he taught,

the crowds that continued with him on the way,

enthralled, persuaded, believing.

You see, the journey was the moment,

destination Jerusalem, holy city,

city of the prophets, city of the kings,

the holy place where God still dwells.

Hosanna, blessings, celebration;

“Bless the king, sound hosannas;

peace in heaven, the promise is near,

glory abounds”, the crowd cries out;

the day of salvation is at hand.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

We cared not for those hard words now;

the swirl of the crowd, the shouts of acclamation,

the spreading of cloaks and waving of branches,

reminders of the times of triumph,

anticipation of the coming glory.

Blessed is the king;

he comes in God’s name.

He comes in God’s glory,

he comes bearing peace.

When would we see it?

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 2

SONG: Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to the king of kings

*****

3 The Room

Now the festival drew near:

unleavened bread, called the Passover,

the celebration of redemption,

the time of God’s salvation.

God came, God saved us,

we hurried to respond;

no time to prepare, no time to bake the bread;

we gathered what we could, left hurriedly,

in haste, intent on being ready—

it was the Passover of God,

when God saved the people.

So we gathered, now, to remember,

retell the ancient story,

relive the present promise.

The table was set, with bread and wine,

for this festival of the Lord,

the celebration of Passover …

We met around the table; a family extended,
with brothers and sisters, children and friends;
aunts … uncles … cousins … disciples …
a cacophony of colleagues, family and followers.

As we met around the table, we joined our voices,

with a psalm of celebration; a psalm of hallelujah.

We gathered as a family,

with roasted lamb and bitter herbs,

unleavened bread, four cups of wine;

we gather now, to celebrate,

and as we do, we anticipate:

God, you saved us then;

O God, save us now.

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 3

SONG: Laudate Dominum

*****

4 The Room

You know the Passover is coming,

when God will save the people;

“and the Son of Man will be handed over;

they will mock him, they will whip him,

they will nail him to the cross, to die.”

For the Passover is coming,

when God will save the people.

“I have eagerly desired to share this time,

to celebrate this Passover, with you, my friends.”

First, the cup which signals the kingdom to come;

“take it, drink from it, remember as you drink”;

then the bread, “this is my body”,

words that strained our incredulity.

Then yet again a cup, the covenant renewed;

familiar ground? yet curiously,

“the cup poured out, a new covenant,

sealed in my blood, shed for you”.

Then words of betrayal; woe to that one,

one we had trusted, one we had honoured.

What was going on in his mind?

We could not know:

of the gathering of leaders, we knew not,

of the plot to seize him quietly, we knew not,

of the thirty pieces of silver, we knew not.

Unthinkable, it turns out, what he was doing:

unimaginable, the consequence of this squalid deal.

But we were at a meal that was filled with celebration;

the somber notes he sounded were lost amidst the joy.

It was the Passover of God,

when God has saved the people.

It was a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together.

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 4

SONG: Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom (Taize)

*****

5 The Garden

Not too long after the betrayer left him,

not too long after, they came for him.

Not just the crowd in the garden,

not just the priests from the temple,

not just the elders who had formed an unholy alliance,

scribes and priests together, on the hunt;

but they came with their thugs, the temple police,

intent on arresting him, as if he were a criminal.

“I was with you, day after day, in the temple,

and you didn’t come for me there. But now—

but here, in this dark moonlit moment,

under cover of night, you seize me?

This is your hour; this is the power of darkness.”

So began this cruel, twisted fate,

from Gethsemane to Golgotha.

With brute force they manhandled him;

to the High Priest, mocking him on the way.

The mocking continued in the assembly,

priests and scribes, elders of the people,

taunting, baiting, condemning.

And then to Pilate, accusing him of crimes

that made no sense to our listening ears.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

That’s what we remembered him saying.

They said, however, that he perverts the nation,

forbids the paying of taxes,

claiming to be Messiah,

claiming to be king.

So Pilate sends him to Herod;

and Herod sends him back to Pilate;

and Pilate insists there is no charge to answer.

Of course there was no charge to answer!

His words cut to the heart of what it means

to be a disciple, to be committed to the covenant,

to share generously with those in need,

to put the concerns of others before oneself,

to open the eyes of the blind

and enable the lame to walk,

to proclaim good news for the poor

and liberation for the captives …

… then again, then perhaps,

that can sound somewhat …

confrontational …

revolutionary …

no wonder that they say he came

to turn the world upside down.

But we had no notion of this

as we walked the road, while he healed and taught,

or as we entered the city, surrounded by jubilations,

or as we sat with him at table, remembering with joy.

Yet there he stood:

charged, condemned;

sentenced to be crucified,

the punishment of slaves,

the fate in store for rebels,

perhaps, even, the inevitable outcome

of a predetermined plan?

Lord, have mercy;

Lord, have mercy …

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 5

SONG: Stay with me (Taize)

*****

6 The Hill

So they led him away, to the top of the hill,

the place of punishment for rebels and criminals.

There were no echoes, now,

of the jubilant cries of the crowd;

there was no sound that fitted

with family celebrations at Passover;

there most certainly was no longer the basis

for acclaiming him as King,

for announcing him as Saviour,

for decreeing he was Lord.

Naked, bloodied, scourged, humiliated,

brought down to common status

as the wooden beam was lifted high;

the mocking words of the soldiers,

the scornful tongues of the leaders,

the taunting cry of the disbelieving thief;

the silent sobbing of companions on the way,

the eerie overshadowing, the turmoil of darkness.

This, to be sure,

was a cruel, twisted fate.

So he died.

What cry pierced the air?

Distraught rejection, some would say;

a cry of sheer abandonment.

Others claim it was far more serene;

“Abba, Father, into your hands

I commend my being, I place my spirit.”

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

Who remembers those words now?

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 6

SONG: Be still, and know that I am God

*****

7 The Room

We returned to the room;

the place of celebration;

the place of remembering.

There is no doubt that we would remember;

the events of the past few days

are seared into memory,

caught in the web of recollection,

every year, every month, every day.

But how could we celebrate?

The Passover of God,

the time of salvation,

the deed of redemption,

in the days of Moses.

That surely would continue;

we would most certainly recall,

we would indeed remember,

embedding the story for our children

and their children.

Would this passing of the master

be a Passover for God?

How could this untimely ending

be the cause of celebration?

So we gather, we remember.

It began in celebration;

a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together;

but then, a kiss … a betrayal … a denial … a trial …

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

SONG: Eat this bread (Taize) as we exit the labyrinth

(Around the final table)

So he took the bread,

as they had always taken the bread;

and lifting it high, he offered his prayers to God.

And we take the bread, and break it:
and we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who bring forth bread from the earth.

WE EAT THE BREAD

Then he took the cup,

as they had always taken the cup;

and lifting it high, he offered his prayers to God.

And we take the cup, and drink it,

and we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who create the fruit of the vine,

You who bring forth hope from anguish,

You who bring forth what was promised,

You who bring forth life from death.

WE DRINK THE CUP

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED

For it was the Passover of God,

when God redeemed the people,

when God saved his chosen people.

And it is the Passover of God,

when God still redeems his people,

when God still saves his faithful people.

And the shouts of acclamation

and the silent shedding of tears

join mysteriously in celebration,

join as one across the years.

In this cruel, twisted fate

is the Passover of God;

for God still redeems his people,

for God saves his faithful ones.

THE FINAL CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED

We step out in faith

we walk forth in hope

treading the path before us

walking into life as his follow ers …

WE LEAVE TO THE MUSIC of Wait for the Lord

***** *****

Song playlist

0 As people gather, a selection of quiet meditative songs and chants

1 Bless the Lord my soul

2 Hosanna, hosanna

3 Laudate dominum

4 Jesus, remember me

5 Stay with me

6 Be still and know

7 Eat this bread

8 Wait for the Lord

Tables

1 In the Foyer, with communion elements. White

2 The Road. Green. Branches, cloaks

3, 4 The Room. Purple. Each has a cup and plate

5 The Garden. Red. Sword.

6 The Hill. Black. Cross.

7 In the Foyer. White. Broken cups and plates with elements

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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