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Maundy Thursday Evening


By Elaine Bardwell - Posted on 31 March 2012

 
The preparation time is over and it is time to begin the Triduum or Great Three Days. In reality this is not 3 separate liturgies held on 3 separate days but one very long liturgy which begins on this night with the opening Greeting and does not end until the Final Blessing and Dismissal of the Easter Vigil. So, one huge service with breaks in between things to allow time for some sleep and nourishment before the next installment. A fourth century pilgrim to the Holy Land called Egeria describes a similar experience in Jerusalem.
 
So we begin with the Ceremonies surrounding the Last Supper. At St Michael's we fortify ourselves with a fish and chip supper together first. It is appropriate to eat a shared meal just as Jesus met with his disciples at that final dinner in which Jesus left us his last will and testament in the form of the Eucharist.
 
Supper over, we begin our 3 day long service with what is called 'The Liturgy of the Lord's Supper'. We wear white vestments and there is a party atmosphere as we begin the evening's proceedings. We read those Scriptures which recall what Jesus did on that last evening he shared with his closest friends - his washing of the disciples' feet as well as blessing bread and wine. 
 
The clergy then do re-enact the washing of feet - at St Michael's we do not pick '12' but invite all present to participate - if someone bares their foot we will wash it. It is always a very moving occasion because young and old, established members, newcomers and at times even strangers show their willingness to  be one with Jesus by joining in. The clergy too show their commitment to be the servants of this community for whom Jesus died. 
 
We then celebrate the Eucharist - again following Jesus' example. We take bread and wine, ask for God's blessing and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Some is then carefully reserved - here is Christ's Presence among us and this will take us through tonight and into tomorrow.
 
We now form a slow procession as we transfer the consecrated Bread and Wine to our 'Altar of Repose' - often in a side Chapel but at St Michael's we use our High Altar - where we move from the Upper Room into the setting of the Garden of Gethsemane. We use candlelight and sometimes a token flower arrangement as symbols of not just the darkness of the night but also the struggle of Jesus' soul and the grim turn of events with Judas' betrayal and the separation of the disciples from their Teacher. There is no formal Dismissal as previously pointed out - the presiding priest quotes this line of Scripture "and they all forsook him and fled" as the signal for the servers and clergy to leave, take off their vestments and then strip the church bare of linen, hangings and the like, making it as uncluttered and undecorated as possible. This will give us a bare framework in the building for tomorrow's ceremonies. But for now, one or more of us take it in turns to keep up a watch of prayer until midnight.
 
At midnight our prayers are brought to a conclusion with Night Prayer, also called Compline - that final Office which rehearses our going to sleep as a sort of death - especially resonant on this night as we consider the Lord's Agony in the Garden. On this note we simply leave in silence as the priest locks the Sacrament away in the safe until later.
 
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