What’s The Go with Maundy Thursday?

The day, also known as Holy Thursday, occurs during Holy Week and falls on the Thursday before Good Friday. The term ‘Maundy’ derives from the Latin for ‘new commandment’ – mandatum novum – which the Lord Jesus Christ (according to John’s Gospel) gave his disciples at the ‘Last Supper’ that Christians should do as He has done.

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus Christ’s last supper and the initiation of the sacrament of Holy Communion (also known as ‘The Lord’s Supper’ or ‘The Eucharist’). It also celebrates the humility of the Lord Jesus as during the Last Supper, he knelt down and one by one washed his disciples’ feet. He did this to show his disciples and to all Christians how to serve one another with humility and love, being willing even to stoop to the most menial tasks.

Some churches observe Maundy Thursday by having Holy Communion, and by having foot washing as part of the service where the clergy wash the feet of members of the congregation. And it needs to be said that most people whom I have seen at these services usually have feet that are clean, having already washed them before attending the service. Whereas Jesus washed 24 feet that really needed to be washed.

History of Foot washing.

My understanding of this practice in the church was that it became common in the church in the fourth century, and involved the bishop within the church washing the feet of the priests and acolytes. In Monasteries, the abbot of a monastery would wash the feet of all the monks. While in Rome, the Pope would wash the feet of selected Cardinals. This was seen as fulfilling the mandate that the greatest among the brethren will be the servant of all. It appears to have been practiced in the early centuries of post-apostolic Christianity though the evidence is scant. For example, Tertullian (145–220) mentions the practice in his De Corona, but gives no details as to who practiced it or how it was practiced. It was practiced by the Church at Milan (ca. A.D. 380), is mentioned by the Council of Elvira(A.D. 300), and is even referenced by Augustine (ca. A.D. 400).

As for whether this practice occurred in the church in the 1st century or prior to the 4th century there is no evidence that I am aware of.  In my view, it is most like that the disciples of the Lord Jesus understood Jesus commandment in John 15:15 (which you can read below) is not so much about the act of washing each other’s feet per se but rather the attitude of humility, servant heartedness and agapé love behind it, and it is these virtues that God’s people are commanded to have.

 

~

 

John 13:1-17:

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

 

 

Book Review – Every Good Endeavour

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, writes a timely book for Christians about work in three parts. The first part, he outlines and explains God’s plan for work, in part two, he outlines ‘Our Problem with work’ –where he interacts with Genesis 3 and the consequence that sin has on humanity, life, the earth and how it relates to work; and finally, in part 3 Keller elucidates on ‘The Gospel and Work’ and how the Christian worldview affects everything, especially our work.[1]

Every Good Endeavour is a book that I would want to place into the hands of every Christian who works. According to Alsdorf[2], there is a paucity when it comes to applicatory teaching pertaining to Christians in the work place[3]. According to Keller, the Bible answers three questions pertaining to work:

  1. Why do you want to work?
  2. Why is it so hard to work?
  3. How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?

Keller’s explores these questions and simultaneously time provides a Biblical understanding of the what, the why, and the how of work which serves as a corrective to the tendency of God’s people to see work as merely a job rather than a vocation. Very helpfully Keller brings to the fore the God’s view of work reveals that God and the Christian faith is ‘pro-physical’[4], and that work was part of paradise and still work has the capacity for contributing much good in this world.[5]

Keller does very well when it comes to his handling of the Scriptures. He strongly delves into Genesis in order to discuss the ‘theology of work’. For the Hebrew buffs, Keller also explores the Hebrew word of the word subdue(Hebrew kābash כָּבַשׁ) and spends considerable time exploring the implications of what it means[6]. Significant and vital also is Keller’s treatment of Genesis 3 in Part Two of his book. Chapter five is largely devoted to Genesis 3 and the effect that the fall has on work.[7] Keller also explores the Biblical Genre of Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes[8]. Keller’s use of the Bible is dispersed through his work, his handling of the text is helpful, and a strength of Keller in this book is that while at times he does offer the single verse, he does not use it as a trite proof text to make his point. He unpacks his points well[9] and does not forget his broad readership.

Every single person on this planet has and lives by a narrative, a narrative that attempts to answer the questions, “What is good in the world?; “What is wrong with the world?”; and “How can I contribute to making things right”? Keller rightly points out that “our worldview affects how we live” and including our daily work[10] and explains clearly the difference to work that the Gospel Narrative’ makes. Keller reminds the readers that God is a Worker, that he is our model when it comes to work and when it comes to how we work, and that our “answers will all hang on this essential theology: the knowledge of who God is, his relation to man, his plan for the world, and how the Gospel of Christ turns our lives and the way we work upside-down”[11].The only question that I think was raised by the book that Keller did not answer was the issue of unemployment, and the pastoral implications and concerns that unemployment has on the unemployed Christian and the pastors who minister to them.

I enjoyed this book and it is one that I would recommend.

 

[1]The vast implication of this gospel worldview – about the character of God, the goodness of the material creation, the value of the human person, the fallenness of all people and all things, the primacy of love and grace, the importance of justice and truth, the hope of redemption – affect everything, and especially our work Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) P.163

[2] Alsdorf contributed to the Foreword.

[3] Quotes from the Forward – “Pastors and Christian business did not address the issue of how a Christians’ faith should affect the way they worked” – p.12“; I believed in the truth of the Gospel…but in the workplace where I had to manage and lead, I had no idea how to live out God’s plan” – (paraphrased from p.13); “Most pastors were more concerned about helping us serve inside the church than about disciplining and equipping us to serve in the world”.  – p.13

[4] “Work has dignity also because not only does it reflect God’s image in us, but also because the material creation we are called to care for is good. The Biblical doctrine of creation harmonises with the doctrine of the incarnation and of the resurrection to how deeply “pro-physical” Christianity is. Even our ultimate future is a physical one”. Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) p.51.

[5] “Work is part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we were made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, as does the Son of God Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) p.36.

[6] See section, Work as Cultivation, pp. 54-57.

[7] “Part of the curse of work in a fallen world is its frequent fruitlessness. What do we mean when we say fruitlessness? We mean that in all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance around us. The experience of work will include pain, conflict, envy, and fatigue, and not all our goals will be met.” Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) p.90.

[8] Keller’s chapter Work Becomes Pointless begins with a quote from Eccl.2:17 and makes the very apt point, “If we base our lives on work and achievement, on love and pleasure, or on knowledge and learning, our existence becomes anxious and fragile – because circumstances in life are always threatening the very foundation of our lives, and death inevitably strips us of everything we hold dear” – which is what the Teacher observes in Ecclesiastes.

[9] Notable examples of this can be found on pp. 101-102; 187-188; 194

[10] Ibid. p.159 See also pp.179-182.

[11] Keller, Timothy, Every Good Endeavour, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) p.19

God’s Playlist The World Needs to Hear

I live with three teenage daughters. It is quite the experience. Much of the time I feel like a very dumb Dad, and this is mainly to do with music. They listen to music that I have never even heard of, and when I do eventually and inevitably hear it around the house, it does not resemble what I would define as ‘music’.

For example, the other day one of my daughters was in the kitchen and in that croaky whiny voice that pop-stars call singing sang:

“I’m a bad guy”!

My daughter’s head went straight up and with wide eyes filled with shock said to me,  “Dad, how do you know that song”?

So I am not that dumb after all?

Singing is part of our culture, though it seems to me that much of what people sing about in Western culture is not that profound, not in the pop genré anyway.

The Bible is filled with songs, and they are songs I think our culture would do well to listen to because they answer a very important question, How are we to worship God?

Our culture says, “Well you can worship God however you want. In fact, you can define God to be whatever you want him/her/it to be or not to be.  However, God is not silent on the subject. The Psalms also remind us of how we are to worship God and what the Psalms do is that they take the basic themes of Scripture (the OT) and turns them into songs.

I think Psalm 1 is the key Psalm. The big idea of Psalm is that there is one God and that every human being is made to love, know and worship this one God.  And Psalm 1 sets this tone for the entire book of Psalms.  It is a song that our world needs to listen to for it sets forth the claim that there are only two types of people in this world.

This clashes with our culture straight away, for our world says there are many types of people. Think about all the different types of people you know; the foodies, those who are into sport, those who love the beach, those who love the bush; cat people, dog people. Rich people, poor people, those who are in between. We have the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Millenials, Post Millenials. Those who are pro-Brexit, those are are anti. There are anti-vaxers, vegetarians, and there are those people who identify with a nomenclature that twenty years ago would have had a very different connotation, ‘extinction activists’.

Psalm 1 cuts through all the confusion, all the nomenclatures, all the labels, all the social categories, and says there are two types of people, with contrasting values, with contrasting lifestyles that lead to very different futures.

The first type of person is a truly happy or blessed person. And the source of their happiness is God.

1 Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

The truly happy or blessed person is one whose life is guided by God’s law, God’s Word rather than being guided by those who reject God’s instruction.  The contrast is massive. Do you notice it? The first person is happy, delights in the law God, meditates on it day and night. God’s Word is that at the forefront of their mind. Whereas those who don’t are described as scoffers.

I remember years when I worked in the Bible Society bookshop in Bathurst St in Sydney, and these two young guys came in and they were trying to steal things, and when they realised that we knew what they were doing,   one of them said, “Do you really think I would want to steal a Bible?” He almost spat out the word ‘Bible’. To him the Bible was to be scoffed at, it was not a delightful book, it was not something to be treasured, nor even read. Not so with the truly happy person, whom this song says:

3 He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

They are like a fruitful tree that is well nourished that blossoms and bears fruit in season.  It has a constant supply of water. Those who delight in God and his word they prosper. This does not mean that they will be healthy, wealthy and wise as some churches teach. But they will bear fruit that benefits others.

That is the first type of person delights in God’s Word, in his instruction and will have a fruitfulness. Not so the wicked.

I have been called lots of things in my life, but never have I been called wicked. It is not a word that we use often in modern-day parlance. It has a number of meanings in English, none are positive. It can mean evil, wrong, immoral or sinful.

What shocked me about the Christian faith when I first encountered it in high school, was just how ego-shattering it was. Before then I did not think that I was immoral or sinful. I thought I was basically a good person who simply talked too much. To discover that compared to God and his standards that I was sinful was a big shock, but when I was honest about it, I knew deep down that it was true. God was not my delight. My values were not the same as those who delighted in God. Looking back, it was this song being played out.

In Psalm 1 we see that the wicked have contrasting values and as a consequence, they are the opposite of fruitful – they are barren:

4The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

In the old days, the farmers would harvest the wheat. They would thresh it and so when the wheat is tossed into the air, the husk, being lighter than the wheat kernels is driven away by the wind – the chaff. Chaff is the opposite of fruit. Fruit from a tree is beneficial to everyone, everyone gains from a fruit tree. But no-one benefits from the chaff. This is why no-one keeps it, no one sells it and no-one uses it.  It is good for nothing.

The Lord Jesus, whom our culture loves to depict being a lover of lambs and flowers says something rather confronting and it is very similar to what this song says:

 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6)

So much for gentle Jesus meek and mild.

What confronts me about this son is that the person who abides in Christ and the person who delights in God and his Word are one and the same. It is impossible to abide in Christ and not delight in God’s Word. How can we delight in the Word of God incarnate – the Lord Jesus and not take delight in the Word of God written?  It is impossible.

As I wrote earlier, there are many types of people. I am Australian. I am male. I love cats. I love winter, the cold and the rain. Faced with the choice of tea or coffee, I choose tea (“Earl Grey, Hot”).  I know people who are not Australian, who are not male,  don’t like cats and love summer, the heat and the sun who drink coffee. Humanity is diverse. Different shapes, sizes, colours, languages, tastes, interests, likes, dislikes. But the Psalmist tells us that there are two types of people. The blessed person and the wicked. They have contrasting values; they have contrasting fruitfulness and thirdly they have contrasting destinations.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

These two lives are on different trajectories, they have different destinations. The fruitfulness reveals where one’s values lie and reveal where one’s allegiance, either to God or themselves. All of which is revealed by one’s life. And God will make this contrast between them permanent. Those who reject God’s rule will not be part of the congregation of the righteous. They will not stand in the judgment.

The Lord Jesus loved this song, he believed and this song like all the songs that we call Psalms are actually all ultimately about him he says the same thing again and again. There are two types of people, there are two ways to live.  He uses the imagery of two types of animals, sheep and goats, two types of fish. In Matthew’s Gospel he says the same thing as the song but uses the image of two types of builders:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matt. 7:24-25)

Our TV is filled with building shows, most of them are from the USA, there is one from Texas, one from Mississippi, even one from Alaska. They are all the same in the end, and the principle is true with every house that is ever built.  One can build the best house ever, with the greatest fittings, stovetops, a lovely backsplash (or backsplash, you can have your luxuriant ensuite, and  7 bedrooms. But if the house is built on sand, the house will crumble and it will end in destruction. You could have two builders build the same house, with the same tools, with the same luxuriance, but the foundations will make all the difference. Two builders, two very different foundations, and two very different results.

Psalm 1 reminds us there are two types of people. One who is blessed, the one who delights in God and his Word, and the one who doesn’t. There are only two types of people because when it comes to life, there are only two ways to live.

We can live our way, where we delight in our own laws, worship God (however we define him/her/it to be or not to be) our way, or we worship God his way, and the way God wants us to worship him, is by trusting, following and obeying the one whom He sent in order that we can be blessed – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is through Jesus Christ that all blessings come.

So I am not that up there when it comes to the latest songs, I don’t recognise nor listen to my teenage daughters’ playlists, but God’s playlist is worth listening to. The songs are three thousand years old, and even though they may not have a huge following on Spotify nor be recognised by Shazam they are songs that our world needs to hear. They are songs I desperately need to keep on hearing.