On Easter Sunday we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Prior to that, on Good Friday, we remember his crucifixion. What about the day before that? What do we celebrate on Thursday?
For many, this Thursday is a normal day in the Church year—no special worship service might be planned and not much attention might be paid to it.
On the day before the crucifixion, however, something very significant happened, and I want to suggest that the meaning of the cross—and Jesus’ shed blood—is tied in deep ways to that event.
The event, of course, is what we call the Last Supper, which turned out to be Jesus’ final celebration with his disciples of the Passover. This is significant because the Passover was the meal that consummated the covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel. For generation after generation to follow, the Passover not only reminded the Israelites of God’s relationship with them, but also enabled them, mysteriously, to participate in that original covenant-sealing meal. Thus, each time it was celebrated, the covenant with Yahweh was relived, re-enacted and renewed.
During the Last Supper, Jesus did something quite unexpected: he identified the meaning of this Passover event with himself. That is, Christ conveyed to his disciples that God’s covenant love for his people would forevermore be focused in his own person—his own body and blood.
On that special Passover night, Jesus not only presided over the renewal of the covenant, but he instituted a New Covenant, with a new command: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). (This new mandate—mandatum in Latin—is why some traditions call it “Maundy Thursday.”)
As we approach Good Friday, we would do well to understand it, in part, by its relationship to Thursday. Christ’s sacrifice, culminating on the cross, brought to completion and fulfilled the terms of the covenant. We can think of his blood not only as washing away or covering sin, but sealing a covenant.
So over the next few days, let’s ponder and celebrate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but let’s not overlook the new-Passover event that consummates and renews the covenant relationship he makes possible.
Let’s not forget Thursday.