Apr 132017
 

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. The day goes by various names worldwide depending on local religious affiliations (and language – of course). Some include Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. It is the day on which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles according to the gospels, and the day itself as well as the Last Supper celebrates a number of traditions in Christian churches. Perhaps of prime importance is the institution of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper during the meal, but there’s also Jesus’ washing of the apostle’s feet, and his betrayal by Judas that night and the accompanying trial. There’s just way too much for me to review in any kind of detail. I’ll just hit some key points.

First let’s consider the word Maundy. The word is obscure but the majority of scholars accept the notion that the English word “maundy” is derived through Middle English from Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum (also the origin of the English word “mandate”), the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another”) in the Latin Vulgate, a statement Jesus made in the Gospel of John 13:34 to explain to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. By these lights the emphasis of the day is on humility, and many longstanding customs support this notion.

The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration among many Christian groups, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau (German Baptist) Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Roman Catholic traditions. The practice is also becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which celebrates, in a special way, the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles. Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the 12th century, when “the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner.” From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII revised the ritual and inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1–15). Some persons who have been selected – usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number – are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and dries them. In a notable break from the 1955 norms, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome in 2013. At one time, most of the European monarchs also performed the Washing of Feet in their royal courts on Maundy Thursday, a practice continued by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the King of Spain up to the beginning of the 20th century In 1181 Roger de Moulins, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller issued a statute declaring, “In Lent every Saturday, they are accustomed to celebrate maundy for thirteen poor persons, and to wash their feet, and to give to each a shirt and new breeches and new shoes, and to three chaplains, or to three clerics out of the thirteen, three deniers [coins] and to each of the others, two deniers”.

Distributing Maundy money is a key element of royal services in England that continues to this day. The first English monarch to be recorded as distributing alms at a Maundy service was John, who on 15 April 1210 donated garments, forks, food, and other gifts to the poor of Knaresborough, Yorkshire. John is also the first English monarch to be recorded as giving gifts of small silver coins to the poor when in 1213 he gave 13 pence to each of 13 poor men at a ceremony in Rochester—the number being symbolic of the Twelve Apostles together with either Jesus or an angel.

By 1363 the British monarch performed foot washing and also gave gifts: that year, fifty-year-old Edward III gave fifty pence to each of fifty poor men. It is not known, however, whether it was as yet the practice each year to have the number of pence and the number of recipients track the monarch’s age: Henry IV was the first monarch to decree that the number of pence given be determined by the monarch’s age.

Although Mary I and Elizabeth I differed religiously, both performed elaborate Maundy ceremonies. Records from 1556 show that Mary washed the feet of forty-one poor women (reflecting her age) while “ever on her knees”, and gave them forty-one pence each, as well as gifts of bread, fish, and clothing, donating her own gown to the woman said to be poorest of all. In 1572, disliking the scenes as each woman tried to secure a piece of the royal gown, Queen Elizabeth granted a sum of £1 to each recipient in lieu of the gown, giving it in a red purse.

The service was usually held somewhere near London. This was done to suit the monarch’s convenience: in medieval times, it was held in Windsor, Eton, Richmond, Greenwich, or wherever the monarch happened to be at Eastertide. In 1714, with the monarch no longer present at the ceremony, the service was moved to the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, where it remained until 1890, when the Chapel was given to the Royal United Services Institute. After 1890, by order of Queen Victoria, it was moved to Westminster Abbey, though in years when there was a coronation and the Abbey was closed for preparations, the service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. From 1954 to 1970, it was held in even-numbered years at Westminster, and in odd-numbered years at provincial cathedrals; since then it has, in most years, been held outside London. When the service was confined to London, recipients were customarily householders who had met their financial obligations to society, but had since fallen on hard times.

Queen Elizabeth II views the service as an important part of her devotional life. It is the only occasion on which the Queen visits others to make awards, as recipients of honors usually come to her. The Queen has directed that the service not be held in London more often than once in ten years. Westminster Abbey was the site of the 2001 Royal Maundy, and again in 2011, the first ever televised. On 20 March 2008, at the Church of Ireland St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, the Queen attended the first Maundy service held outside England and Wales.

Today the recipients are pensioners, chosen on an interdenominational basis from various Christian churches for their service to their churches and communities. In most years, recipients are nominated by Christian clergy of various denominations in the diocese where the service is held. In 2011, however, as well as recipients representing Westminster Abbey, forty recipients came from the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar  which covers continental Europe, and forty from the Diocese of Sodor and Man, which consists only of the Isle of Man. For 2012, in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, recipients were selected from all 44 dioceses in the United Kingdom for the service at York Minster.

One man and one woman are chosen for each year the Queen has lived (including the year she is currently living), and they receive Maundy money equivalent in pence to that number of years. Uniquely, in 2011 and 2012 the sovereign was the same age in two successive ceremonies (the 2011 ceremony was performed on the Queen’s 85th birthday).

When I was pastor at Stony Point Presbyterian Church in New York we used to have a token Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, including a communion service, incorporating a tenebrae with appropriate readings, and with the progressive extinguishing of candles (and the lights), until the room was in complete darkness – and the congregation left in silence (sometimes in tears) as one member hammered nails into wood in the sanctuary. Very powerful. This custom symbolized Jesus’ purported actions on that evening on the assumption that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  The Synoptics and John differ on this. John, anxious to underscore the symbolism of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God, dates the crucifixion to the day on which the Passover lambs were sacrificed in the Temple. Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew insist that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I’m inclined to the latter. John is a bit heavy handed with his theologizing of history. Therefore you can emulate Passover meals today if you wish. My post on Passover is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/passover/ Passover started on Monday night this year (2017) which means we are still in the middle of it because it lasts a full week.

I’m intrigued by the fact that Kerala Christians (known as St Thomas Christians because of the belief that Thomas founded churches in the region) have special recipes for this day. There were a number of Kerala priests in Stony Point when I was there, for some reason,  and I liked to share their traditions with them .The day is called Pesaha (പെസഹ), in the local Malayalam language, derived from the Aramaic for Passover (Pesach). It is a statewide public holiday declared by the Government of Kerala because of the high number of Saint Thomas Christians. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam is customary after special long services. On the evening before Good Friday the Pesaha bread is made at home. It is made with unleavened flour. A sweet drink or dip made of coconut milk and jaggery is often made to be consumed along with this bread. On Pesaha night the bread is baked or steamed in a new vessel, immediately after rice flour is mixed with water and they pierce it many times with handle of the spoon to let out the steam so that the bread will not rise ( this custom is called ” juthante kannu kuthal” in the Malayalam language meaning “piercing the bread according to the custom of Jews”). This bread is cut by the head of the family and shared among the family members after prayers.

I have zero experience with this tradition, so here’s a video. Unfortunately it’s in Malayalam, but there are adequate subtitles in English to follow the visual instructions:

Jul 222013
 

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Today is the feast day of Mary Magdalene sometimes called Mary of Magdala.  She is one of the most important figures in early Christianity although, being a woman, her role can be overshadowed by contemporary men.  We need to make sure we have a more balanced perspective.  Reading the earliest texts carefully, notably certain passages in the Greek Bible, it is clear that the ministries of Jesus and Paul could not have succeeded without the support of women. In other words, women ensured the survival and development of the early church, but the part they played goes virtually unnoticed nowadays.  Mary Magdalene was pivotal in that role.

Her name in the Greek Bible is  is, “Maria the Magdalene (of Magdala).” Her given name, Maria, is the Latin form of the Greek name Mariam, which, in turn, represents the Aramaic/Hebrew name Miriam, a very popular name in Jesus’ time – hence the need to add “of Magdala” to distinguish her from other Marys. I think it is unfortunate that so many names in the Greek Bible have come down to us as English transliterations of Greek attempts to spell Hebrew words.  The Greek and Hebrew alphabets are so different that the Greek versions of Hebrew names are virtually unrecognizable.  Jesus, for example, is the best the Greeks could do with the Hebrew version of Joshua, Yehoshua. So Mary Magdalene would have been known in her day (in Aramaic) as “Miriam from Magdala.” Magdala is believed to have been located on the Sea of Galilee near modern Khirbet Medjdel.

Excavations at Magdala

Excavations at Magdala

Mary Magdalene is mentioned 12 times in the gospels which is more times than most of the apostles (the exceptions being Peter, James, and John). For a woman to get that much air time in a patriarchal world means that she was very significant.  Key passages in the gospels indicate, first, that she was a leading follower of Jesus (all citations from NRSV):

“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8:1-3)

Second, that she witnessed the crucifixion:

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)

Third: that she witnessed the burial of Jesus:

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:57-61)

Fourth, that she was the first of the disciples to see the tomb on Easter morning:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18)

We can argue endlessly about the accuracy and intentions of Biblical stories, obviously, but we cannot escape the fact that if we take nothing else from these passages we can at the very minimum conclude that Mary Magdalene was a vital member of the earliest Christian community. Even if we strip these quotations down to the barest bones and eliminate those parts that require an element of faith, I think it is reasonable to conclude that Mary was one of a group of women who followed Jesus and took care of certain basic needs such as food and shelter, that she was not only loyal to Jesus, but had the courage to stand by at dreadful moments, and that she had an important evangelical role to play after the crucifixion. These are the kinds of fundamental details that would not have been reported of a woman unless they were grounded in some kind of historical fact.

A great deal of speculation and historically questionable folklore has grown up around Mary Magdalene, and is remarkably persistent despite utter lack of evidence.  For centuries she was branded as a reformed prostitute, even though there is nothing in the gospels to support this notion.  If anything she appears to be a woman of means.  Prurient modern minds want to make her into Jesus’ lover or even wife. That is the modern mind at work.  Even wilder is the attempt to cast Mary as the mother of Jesus’ child, a fantasy that began in the 13th century and which has become part of a growing tradition in modern literature and film.  The idea undoubtedly sells books, but it is totally without merit.

More measured scholarship suggests that Mary Magdalene was a prominent disciple and possibly the leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women’s leadership. At the very least she was a powerful supporter of Jesus after his death.  As such she deserves a more prominent place in Christian history than she receives.  Mary’s position within the development of the early church cannot be emphasized enough, and should not be cheapened with silly innuendo about a relationship with Jesus.  Without women such as her, Christianity (by which I mean the gospel of love) would have died.

The French madeleine and the Spanish cupcake, the magdalena, have often been associated with Mary Magdalene purely because of the names — both being variants of Magdalene.  It is probable that madeleines are named for a pastry chef but there is no agreement on this matter. Some sources say they may have been named for a 19th century pastry cook, Madeleine Paulmier, but other sources have it that Madeleine Paulmier was a cook in the 18th century for Stanislaw Leszczynski, whose son-in-law, Louis XV of France, named them for her. Whatever the origin, the link between madeleines and Mary Magdalene has stuck.

Madeleines are also famous because of a well known reference in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (sometimes called the “madeleine episode”):

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?  And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

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To make madeleines you will need a madeleine pan or two.  These give the cakes their distinctive scalloped bottom.  They are easily found in good cooking stores or online. Typically one pan has 12 molds.

Madeleines

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup butter, melted and cooled (clarified but liquid)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease and flour 24 Madeleine molds.

In a medium bowl beat the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Beat for 5 to 7 minutes or until thick and satiny.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Sift ¼ of the flour mixture over the egg mixture, gently fold in. Fold in the remaining flour by quarters. Then fold in the melted and cooled butter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared molds, filling ¾ full.

Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden and the tops spring back.

Cool in molds on a rack for 1 minute. Loosen the madeleines with a knife and then invert them on to a rack and cool.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the tops, or melt semi-sweet chocolate chips and dip the tips in the chocolate.

Store in an airtight container.

Yield 24