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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Water Rites: A Question about Maundy Thursday

Springtime traditionally has marked the opening of trout season. After a winter of anticipation, men, women, boys and girls will be lining the banks of streams and lakes for the ritual of casting a line on "first day." That ritual has been repeated for decades as eager fishermen and fisherwomen hit the waters, scurrying to claim their spot. It is not uncommon for zealous anglers soon to have their lines tangled (I remember the time as a child I caught a boat that was passing too close to shore.). On the other hand, it takes a measure of self-control not to follow the multitude to the places where the stocking truck had only weeks earlier unloaded its hatchery-fed, legal-sized cargo. Some seek out the more more pristine and secluded reaches where stream-bred trout populate the waters, fishing the way it was meant to be.

Last time we did a brief piece entitled "Of the Waters of Infant Baptism. It was but a brief introduction to a topic that has been keenly debated over the centuries of the Christian Church. Rightly reading the Scriptures and rightly interpreting the waters, we argued, is of the essence.

This time we take up an inquiry about another water ritual. Some time ago a question was posed to me about a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church that has begun to make its way into Reformed terminology. What about Maundy Thursday? This particular inquirer was asking why Grace Church did not have a Maundy Thursday communion service like another church in our presbytery was having. My answer follows:

We believe that the Scriptures do not command such a service on that day. Maundy Thursday, as understood in Roman Catholic terms, is a mandated feast in the so-called Holy Week. It is associated with the Passover gathering of Jesus with His disciples presumably on the Thursday before His crucifixion. The word Maundy [“Origin: 1250–1300; ME maunde < OF mande < L mandātum command, mandate (from the opening phrase novum mandātum (Vulgate) of Jesus' words to the disciples after He had washed their feet)” (See Dictionary.com.)] has its origin in the Latin Vulgate. Rome has taken the “mandate” to mean that the church ought to hold a special foot washing and mass on ‘Maundy Thursday’.

As Protestants we understand Jesus is our Passover. He speaks of the Lord’s Supper being administered “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.” Obviously, we administer the Supper typically on the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week. As far as the foot washing, we have not understood that as a mandated ritual, but as the pattern of Christian service wherein we humble ourselves to serve one another as Christ served His disciples. That is the ‘mandate’, as we understand it.

Having said that, we recognize the Christian church as having the liberty to call for worship on other occasions besides the Lord’s Day. We state in our church Directory for the Public Worship of God the following: “Although it is fitting and proper that the members of Christ's church meet for worship on other occasions also, which are left to the discretion of the particular churches, it is the sacred duty and high privilege of God's people everywhere to convene for public worship on the Lord's Day. God has expressly enjoined them in his holy Word not to forsake the assembling of themselves together” (DPW I.6.).

In other words, it is certainly appropriate for churches to exercise their discretion to meet on a Thursday to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper if they choose to do so. A concern, however, is that we not make a command out of something that was not meant to be such. We believe the keeping of the Lord’s Day and the administration of the Lord’s Supper are commands; Maundy Thursday is not.

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