Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In the Gospels, when the Evangelists get to Passion Week the narrative slows down, even to the point of giving us an hour by hour, blow by blow account for some parts of the story. We have arrived at prime time, or ‘Jesus hour’ as it is called in the Fourth Gospel. The Gospels have rightly been called Passion Narratives with a long introduction, and in some cases up to 34% of a Gospel will be taken up with the last week of Jesus’ life. Why? In part because of the soteriological importance of this part of the story, but also because it required more explaining, since early Jews were not looking for a crucified messiah, much less one from Nazareth in Galilee. This is also why there tends to be more fulfillment citations showing that this or that element of the Passion Narrative was after all foreshadowed in the OT. The unexpected needed to be explained and if Scriptural warrant for its happening could be given, so much the better, as it showed it was a part of God’s plan all along.

A crucial part of the entire story is the story of the Last Supper, involving a meal that likely transpired on Thursday night before Good Friday. The later Christian celebration of this night came to be called Mandatum, and then Maundy (for short) Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin for mandate, or commandment. The ‘mandate’ in question comes from the Johannine account of things--- ‘a new commandment I give you, that you should love one another’. This is where the name of the day ultimately derives from.

How should we celebrate this most holy of all church seasons? One way historically the church has done so is by fasting. And one way to do that is to follow the line of the story. Jesus at the last supper in essence says about the cup he was partaking of after the meal “I shall not drink it again, until I drink it new in the Kingdom”. I have followed this lead by fasting from Thursday night until Sunday morning, rising early for an Easter breakfast. I tend to do a solid food fast, though some do without beverages or even everything during this period. What is the point?

The point is to force yourself to slow down, and focus on the story of what happened at the end of Holy Week, and what Christ has done for you. Instead of eating, you spend the hour (or however long) praying, or reading the story, or going on a spiritual walk, or the like. When you get hungry, you simply drink water. By Friday night you will go to bed hungry, and by Saturday night you may well need some Advil to go to bed. But this spiritual discipline will remind you of the things that Jesus went through to bring us redemption. It will remind you of his last meal, because you have had your last one for a while. It will remind you that you are called to die to self and live to the Lord. As Paul puts it—“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Are you ready to take up your cross and follow the Master? One of the benefits is that as Paul says in Phil. 4, you learn how to be content, and to live without, as well as to live with. It reminds you of your mortality, but also of your fragility. This body keeps needing air, food, water to prop it up day after day. It reminds us of those who often go without these basic necessities many days of the year. It reminds us to pray “give us this day….”

Just down from my hometown of High Point N.C. is Winston Salem, the home of the Moravians in that part of the world. Before dawn their band, rather like a Salvation Army band goes to the Moravian grave yard and begins playing there hearts out as the sun comes up over the graveyard. Then they march down the streets of Old Salem and into the Chapel there. After worship wonderful Moravian cinnamon bread and special Moravian cookies are parceled out. Half way around world at the same pre-dawn hour Greeks are running through the streets of Athens making noise and shouting Christos anesti--- Christ is risen. There are many ways to celebrate Easter. But if you do not have some concept of the cost of our redemption and what it took to get to that Sunday morning, the celebration, while still joyful, is less meaningful.

I remember the first time I ever preached a sunrise service, and we sang “Up from the Grave He Arose”. I was starving, but I was giddy with joy. Jesus was arising, and would meet me at breakfast, like the breakfast by the sea in John 21. Find a way to make this Holy Week something special for you and your own spiritual journey. I promise you will not regret it. Why not join me in my fast, and thereafter tell me of your experiences and we will post it on the blog.

Here is a quote from the great Jewish Mamonides about the OT food laws, but it could just as easily be applied to the discipline of fasting:

It trains "us to master our appetites; to accustom us to restrain our desires; and to avoid considering the pleasure of eating and drinking as the goal of human existence."


Anonymous said...


I'm looking forward to joining you in a fast this week. Thanks for the reminder and call to experience something this holy week. His best to you.

Brian Jones

Carrie Allen said...

My current exhaustion made me cry over your blog post. It's time to slow down and remember; I also look forward to joining you. Thanks for giving me the idea. :)

sgreene25 said...

Ben- Good word, I will join you. Thanks.

Leslie said...

I thoroughly agree on the idea of slowing down to think about what went on during that crucial time at the beginning of our faith. I wrote a lengthy paper last semester on the resurrection, and it was a great encouragement for me. One of the greatest encouragements during times of doubt/skepticism for me has been thinking about the resurrection and the surrounding days. Thanks for the reminder to take it slow during this special time of remembrance.

Incidentally, the church where I worship takes the Lord's Supper every Sunday. While I tend to agree that this is the example from the early church, it does not come without its problems. Taking it so often has caused us to basically rush through it, and I wish everyone would try to remember to slow down when we are being called to remember that sacrifice, and the hope it brings. I'm currently reading your book on the Lord's Supper, but it may be a while before I finish it, as I'm also reading some material by NT Wright as well as JP Moreland.

ed said...

I have felt something missing from my personal observance of Holy Week until now. I will be joining you and I will be inviting my congregation to join as we observe Mandatum Thursday this evening. Thanks for the good word.