March 23, 2016 Gene Schlesinger

“Could you not wait with me one hour?” Keeping Watch with Christ on Maundy Thursday


The three holy days of the paschal Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil) are the center of the church’s worshiping life because they recall the center of Christian salvation: Christ’s death and resurrection for us. The liturgies of the Triduum together form a unity (a fact which is signalled by the absence of dismissals and opening salutations: each liturgy begins where the other left off). In order to most fully experience the glories of Easter, we must first contemplate the horrors of Good Friday and dwell in Holy Saturday’s silence. In order to understand Good Friday, though, we must learn from Christ how he interprets his approaching death on Maundy Thursday: by giving us his body and blood in the Eucharist, and by washing our feet.

By an ancient tradition, there is no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. Instead, we make our communion from the elements consecrated at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. And so, on Maundy Thursday, after our celebration of the Eucharist, we will reserve the blessed sacrament for our communion on Good Friday, and Christ’s body and blood will lie in repose on a side altar.

The altar of repose extends to us an invitation.

After the last supper, Jesus spent the night in Gethsemane, praying to his Father in agony (Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46). As he prays, his disciples fall asleep, much to Jesus’s disappointment. He had hoped that they would stay awake and keep watch with him.

After the liturgy, the altar is stripped, all icons are covered or removed from the sanctuary, no decorations are left on display, and the cross is shrouded. Christ is laid bare and desolate, left alone as he goes on to the work of salvation.

But we have the opportunity to keep watch with him.

This year, we will have the opportunity to spend time in prayer before Christ in the blessed sacrament at the altar of repose. We believe that he is really present in the eucharistic elements, which makes it especially appropriate to spend time in prayer where the sacrament is in repose.

If prayer before the reserved sacrament is new to you, don’t worry. There’s not really a wrong way to do it, so long as you come with an open heart and a reverent spirit. You might recite some favorite prayers. Or you might pray your own prayers. Or you might just sit or kneel silently in the Lord’s presence. Or you might do all of these. For full effect, I’d recommend spending about an hour in prayer to and adoration of Jesus, but really whatever time you are able to set aside will benefit you.

From the end of our Maundy Thursday liturgy until 9:30pm, All People’s Church will remain open for those who wish to spend that time with Jesus. And beginning at 10:30 on Good Friday, the same opportunity will be made available.

More information about our Holy Week services can be found here.

For a primer on what we do (and why) during these liturgies, click here.

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