Gleanings from the Collects: Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose most dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it in thankful remembrance of Jesus Christ our Savior, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect is taken from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and contains theology that can be found in The Exhortations of the 1662 BCP.[1]  Although it is brief, this prayer for Maundy Thursday is rich in content.

First it marks Jesus’ Passover Meal with His disciples as the night that He instituted Holy Communion. That is significant because in it He will be both Priest and Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Second it is clear that what Jesus instituted was more than a memorial meal. It is “the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.” A Sacrament is not only an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, but it also a “sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”[2]It is this assurance of receiving grace through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood that liberates us from chasing elusive subjective feelings and instead grants us “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.”[3]

The language of “Body and Blood” is the language that Jesus used when He instituted the Sacrament. It is why we believe that He is truly present with us.[4]The collect makes no attempt to explain how this happens because no explanation is necessary. It is a “holy mystery” and holy mysteries are not problems to be solved but gifts for which to be abundantly thankful. John Donne said it best. “He was the Word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it; And what that Word did make it, I do believe and take it.”

Third the collect declares that in this holy mystery of His Body and Blood we receive “a pledge of eternal life.” This bold declaration comes from the lips of Jesus. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”[5]Could there be a greater promise to us or a greater reason to make the reception of this Sacrament the highest priority?

It is through this Sacrament that Christ unites Himself with us and we with Him, just as He prayed in John 17. The fruit and consequences of this union are innumerable but there is a lovely synopsis in the Prayer of Thanksgiving during Ministration to the Sick. “Gracious Father, we give you praise and thanks for this Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of your beloved Son Jesus Christ, the pledge of our redemption; and we pray that it may bring us forgiveness of our sins, strength in our weakness, and everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”[6]

The institution of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood on this night makes it one of the holiest of the Christian year. May God “mercifully grant that we may receive it in thankful remembrance of Jesus Christ our Savior.”

[1]1662 Book of Common Prayer p.303

[2]1979 BCP Catechism p.857

[3]1979 BCP p.339

[4]Luke 22:19,20

[5]John 6:54

[6]1979 BCP p.457

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