New Maundy Service

March 25, 2001

(Written and adapted for use in UU Churches by Jan Vickery Knost)


Choral Introit

Words of Welcome and Call to Celebration -

God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If I say surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light shall be as night, even the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day. The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the lord who hath made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

Let us sing our opening hymn, “All Beautiful the March of Days” Number 57.

Chalice Lighting

Joys and Concerns (AT CONCLUSION: “We also want to hold those of you in our hearts who have chosen at this time not to share any sorrow or concerns you may have. Be assured of our continuing love and support.”)

Children’s Presentation - Lorna Knost

Singing Our Children to Their Classes Number 414

The Service of Memory - - -

Friends, here in this hour, we perform no miracle. This is no magic rite. We do not regard these symbols set before us with any kind of superstitious awe. Rather, what we do here is to reverently unite in an act of commemoration and consecration that bears witness to our liberal faith - a faith in the power of sacrificial love and the triumph of good over evil. Into this time of sharing and of remembrance you are invited, united in a free and inclusive fellowship by our mutual hunger after thirst and righteousness.

Here we remember Jesus, his noble idealism, his reverence for each human personality, his utter devotion to human need. We remember his patience, too and his forgiving spirit - even toward his enemies. And we recall, too, his unswerving loyalty to the truth and singleness of purpose, even in the face of the treat of death.

We also remember those who have gone before us, of whatever name or sign, those who have enriched our lives beyond our power to measure or account.

We think of prophets and seers who have borne witness to the truth and resisted wrong with uncompromising integrity; of martyrs and heroes proved in liberating strife against tyranny and injustice even unto death.

We remember those who have given life its color and fragrance and by their genius made our world more beautiful; poets and artists, musicians and writers.

We recall the scientists of the past and present who have expanded the horizons of knowledge and revealed the wonders of this universe, our home; and we recall the wise and brave of every land and nation; the saviors of the race; the teachers and leaders of humanity who have enlarged our minds and spirits.

We think with gratitude of those who perform the hard work of the world; the toilers in mine and field, the workers in factory, office and shop, by whose labors our path of life is made easier.

We are mindful, too, of the sacrificial spirit and heroic devotion of the unnumbered hosts of our land and other lands who offer their lives to the creation of a better world and a nobler, more humane society.


(The Service of Memory Ritual follows: two small children with aid of parents place a white carnation in a vase as each name is spoken and a chime is played. A last red carnation is placed for all those unnamed but remembered.)

We also remember in this our those of our household of faith within this church or by relation to those who sustain it and who walk with us no more, and yet, remain comrades of our spirits in a common cause, having left us a great heritage in the inspiration of their example and the joy of their abiding presence while they were here with us. Thanks be to God for their beautiful benedictions upon our lives.

Here, then, in this moment of memory, we remember:

Robert Allen
Helen Babcock
Harwood Chase Burdett
John Alexander Clark
Esther Crocker
Edith Devine
Alice Firth
Pierce Fuller
Wilder Gaudette
Wilma Glover
June Hepworth
Marion Gould Scheller
Betty Louise Tubman
William Horne White
Gladys Wilder
David Rice Williams.....

And with this final flower, we remember all of those beloved ones of our lives and of our church who made our lives richer by having lived among us. Thanks be to God for their beautiful benedictions on our lives!

Anthem: “Shall We Gather at the River”


I have been celebrating this service with members of the churches I have served as minister for over 40 years. The elements of the service have changed very little - a word here, an insight there, but nothing too significant as far as change is concerned. You see, this service is so classic in its simplicity that it needs no efforts to change it. Its message is as eternal as the seasons. It is a message of inspiration and of remembrance.

So it is that we turn for one of the few times in our church’s yearly observances to a rite left behind or rejected by many. This, of course, is understandable because for those who have come to us out of orthodoxy, such a service as this seems very much like the traditions they may have left behind. But as I said previously, we perform no miracle. This is no magic rite. Nor do we regard with any kind of superstitious awe the symbols set here before us.

What we do is to reverently unite in an act of consecration that bears witness to our faith in the power of sacrificial love and in the redeeming power of truth as it is revealed to us.

We worship in this church in a free fellowship of faith. Here in this observance we create a creative expression of remembrance for those who have made our lives richer by having lived among us. Here, we publicly declare our bond of fellowship with one another through the rededication of our lives to the principles for which Jesus lived and died.

This is a simple sacrament - this breaking of bread together, this sharing of the cup. And yet, it is forever rendered memorable and significant by its association with the last feast of the Passover which Jesus celebrated with his disciples.

Let me read the account to you as it is contained in the Gospel according to Mark in the 14th Chapter, beginning in the 12th verse:

So you see, in eating that memorable Passover meal together, Jesus and his disciples were doing just what thousands of similar companies of Jews were doing at that same moment in the same way.

Now we have to understand that the Passover Supper was a great religious feast the elements of which were very carefully prepared. Its ceremonial was strictly observed.

It was meant to commemorate a fateful night far back in Israel’s legendary past. It symbolized the time in Egypt when the people were slaves, but by the grace of their God, were given immunity from the last plague of Egypt. In a time when thousands of Egyptians were dying because Pharaoh would heed the pleas and admonitions of their leader, Moses, the terrible power of God literally “passed over” the homes of those whose portals were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb.

So the ceremony came down through the centuries with the same parts always observed. The meal must consist of a lamb, ceremonially killed. It should include unleavened (bread with no yeast in it) as well as bitter herbs, four courses of wine all consumed in a specific order. There were also other accessories to the celebration; the washing of the hands, the blessing over each course, a recital of the story, the breaking of the bread by the master of the company and the singing of certain proper psalms.

Picture the scene, then. Here was Jesus, the master of this particular company of Jews, referred to as rabbi and teacher. He engaged them in a commemorative ceremony familiar and precious to all Jews.

We need to remember, too, that Jesus realized something which his friends little understood which was that this most probably was the last time that he would meet his disciples at the table. What more natural a gesture, then, that he should give the occasion, in itself so appropriate and rich in signifying former blessings, another more private significance? He asked that his disciples always remember to think of the meal as a reminder of him and of what they had been through together.

We might almost say that it was inevitable that he should do so. The sadness of parting from them, the fear that they would forget his teachings and influence and the desire to leave with them some enduring reminder of him and all that he had hoped for them.

These things, then, were uppermost in his mind. What more natural, too, that he should take the bread in order to bless it and break it as it had always been done, and which the ceremony required of him, and to say, “This bread is not only the symbol of our ancestor’s labors and suffering endured for us; but henceforth let it be a symbol of my labors and suffering, of my body broken for you. Take and eat it, now and ever after, and as often as you do, do it in remembrance of me. And so, too, with the wine.

In other words, my friends, the Last Supper in its origin represents no uncomfortable mystery; no labored event; but simply one of the most natural and spontaneous impulses of human affection that the heart could produce.

An additional point to remember is that the last supper in its original form and content presents not a single obstacle to the conscientious Unitarian Universalist. On the contrary, it offers an opportunity for worship more congenial than any other kind of Christian, Jewish, Moslem or other faith ritual.

It is literally a service of community with the spirit of that which we deem most holy; in the past and in the present; in God, humanity and in Jesus; in our own dear ones and fellow members now gone from our sight. This is what Jesus meant it to be and it is ample justification for including it as a celebration for us here.


Here before us on this table, then, are the symbols of the Seder Feast, also called the Passover meal. Let us consider them individually and understand something of their meaning and of just what Jesus was doing that evening of what has been called “The Last Supper”. I would also like to add a commentary on what most likely happened on that night when Jesus gathered with his disciples.

The moral and spiritual worth of the event called the Seder has become a vital part of Jewish consciousness. Its spiritual tone is mingled with bursts of good humor and serious observations on Jewish life and history. Children play a prominent part in the Seder. Parent and child are brought into a union of warm religious sympathy and loyalty to family and faith.

WINE: As in all Jewish ceremonials of rejoicing wine is used as a token of festivity. Today we are using an alcohol free Cabernet but other drinks are also used - mead, apple-cider, fruit juice or unfermented raisin wine.

THE FOUR CUPS: Each participant in the Seder is expected to partake of a portion of four cups of wine. Even the poorest of the poor were enjoined to somehow provide for the four cups. This number has been determined by the four divine promises God made for the redemption of Israel.
The first cup serves for Kaddish as on other holy days; the second is taken at the conclusion of the first part of the Seder; the third follows grace after the meal and the last comes at the end of the second part of the Seder.

THE CUP OF ELIJAH: The fifth promise of God to bring Israel into Canaan gave rise for the need for a fifth cup. Popular belief left the decision of all mooted questions of law to the prophet Elijah, the central hero of Jewish legend. Thus came the custom of “Opening the door for Elijah” and the provision of a place prepared for him at the left of the Rabbi. Stripped of its legendary form, this symbolic place at table alludes to the hope for the realization of which Israel ever yearns and strives.

MATZO: The unleavened bread or the “bread of affliction” reminds us of the hardships that the nation of Israel suffered in Egypt and of the haste with which they departed from the wrath of Pharaoh. Having no time to bake their bread, they had to rely for food upon sun-baked dough which they carried with them.

WATERCRESS OR PARSLEY: Either of these greens is suggestive of the customary relish used as a token of gratitude to God for the products of the earth. The purpose of dipping it in salt water is to make it more palatable. In some companies the salt water is symbolic of the tears of the nation of Israel shed for its victims.

MOROR: This is the Hebrew term for horseradish or what is more commonly known as “the bitter herb”. It represents the embittered life of the Israelites in Egypt.

HAROSES: This is a mixture of apples, blanched almonds and raisins, finely chopped and flavored with cinnamon and wine. It was probably used originally as a condiment. Owing to its appearance it came to be regarded as representing the clay with which the Israelites were forced to make bricks or the mortar used in the great structures erected by the bondsmen of Egypt.

THE ROASTED SHANK BONE: Is emblematic of sacrifice and, more particularly, of the Paschal lamb.

THE EGG: Roasted, is used as a symbol of the free-will burnt-offering brought on every day of the feast during the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem. When such sacrifices no longer occurred, it became symbolic of fertility and gratitude. And finally:

THE APHIKOMON: This word is derived from the Greek meaning “After-meal” or dessert. The origin of this custom is traced back to the Paschal lamb eaten on Passover night. It was customary to reserve a small portion of the lamb to be eaten at the close of the meal. When sacrifices had ceased a piece of the matzo was eaten instead.

The “Aphikomon” is laid aside by the Rabbi. The children steal it when he looks away and hide it. They keep alert knowing that a forfeit will be paid to them for returning it to the Rabbi who will probably say something to the effect that “Gracious! We cannot finish our meal without the Aphikomon. I will pay a forfeit to those who bring it back.” The gift is given the children and the meal is ended.


Come with me, then, to that table in an upper room. Witness with me some of the events that occurred. Jesus, full in the knowledge that he was about to turn his face towards Jerusalem, also knows that his ministry will be coming to an end. He is aware of the danger, even unto death.

In his comments as the Rabbi of his little company he probably took some matzo and broke it. “You know, they will probably come and take me and will break my body even as I break this bread. WHENEVER YOU BREAK BREAD TOGETHER; WHENEVER YOU EAT OF THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH, REMEMBER ME. REMEMBER WHAT I TAUGHT YOU AND REMEMBER WHAT WE STOOD FOR!

Then he probably took the cup of wine an spilled a little on the table and said something to the effect that, “You know, they will probably spill my blood even as I spill this wine. WHENEVER YOU DRINK OF THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH, REMEMBER ME! REMEMBER WHAT I TAUGHT YOU AND REMEMBER WHAT WE STOOD FOR!

So you see, as I have said previously, this time of sharing these elements of the earth is no real problem for us if we demythologize their meaning. For it becomes a ritual of remembrance and commitment to the principles of love and service for which Jesus lived and died.

As the music plays, the members of the worship committee will pass the bread among you. Take some and wait until all are served and let us eat together.

“Let the bread here set apart from the bounty of the earth be to us a token of all the good we receive but cannot ourselves effect. AT THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF JESUS.

We will now be given a small portion of wine to share. Please wait until all are served that we can drink it together.

“Let the wine here outpoured be to us a token of the self-forgetting good which we may do for others if we are to share in the fullness of the divine blessings of Life.


(“Praised art Thou, O Lord our god, King of the universe, Creator of the fruits of the earth.”)

OFFERING : “Give as it has been given unto you, full measure and brimming over; for as ye sow, so shall ye also reap.” Our morning offering will now be received.


HYMN: “This Old World” - Number 315

Read: “.....and he came unto Gethsemane and said unto His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Abide ye here and watch with me.” and he went a little way away and fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup ass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but Thy will be done.”“

RESPONSIVE READING: “Rolling Away the Stone” #628

In this modern day and age, our temptation is to dismiss heroes as irrelevant and make them bigger than life in order to justify the miniaturization of our own lives. In looking at a figure such as Jesus of Nazareth one needs to realize that this came to be the temptation of his followers after his death. BEFORE his death his disciples urged him to take on the title of “Messiah”. On the day he entered Jerusalem with all the hoopla and the crowds praising him he heard them say things like “Take this sword we hand you. We’re behind you. Lead on!”

Then, following his ignominious death began to see how it would profit them to proclaim that this simple man was actually God. He rose from the dead, they said. He had victory over death. This was a way of adding a heroic dimension that was completely understood in those times. For you see, belief in some kind of miraculous salvation process was central to MANY religious systems. Mythraism affirmed that their god, like the Phoenix, would die and rise again. They thus could UNDERSTAND what this new cult call the Christians were saying.

Hebrew Apocalypticism affirmed that the world would be destroyed and god would resurrect the dead and a new Kingdom of Heaven would be established. Christians talking in these terms made sense to the Jews who expected an Apocalypse.

Gnosticism promised a mysterious and wonderful transformation from this cruel and evil world to a realm in a transcendent heaven. THEY could understand what the Christians were saying. The stumbling block for those who lived in the time of Jesus’ death WAS NOT HIS DIVINITY. It was his humanity. That he died on a cross.

We as Unitarian Universalists take the story to the next level. For us, Jesus’ humanity is THE central issue. For us he was a human being. He lived. He preached. He taught. He died. But the record of his teaching and his life is so compelling and challenging in asking us to love and to serve that we are able to DETACH OURSELVES from the superstition and fear that goaded the early church leaders to prod and manipulate their hearers. We’re not there.

Today we shared the fruits of the earth in a simple sharing that bears witness to our faith in freedom, and in the redeeming power of truth. We celebrate our principles of faith each Sunday by lighting a chalice that symbolizes a Church of DEEDS NOT CREEDS.

Let us remember this as but another way of celebrating our precious heritage of religious freedom. Amen.

Please turn with me to selection number 501 in your hymnals. I would like us to read it together. At the place indicated we will stop briefly. At that time, if you are so disposed, please speak the name of anyone whom you would have us all hold in our hearts.

Let us be in a spirit of prayer and read together:

“Spirit of Community, in which we share and find strength and common purpose, we turn our minds and hearts toward one another seeking to bring into our circle of concern all who need our love and support: those who are ill, those who are in pain, either in body or in spirit, those who are lonely, those who have been wronged.

(Here are spoken the names of those to be held in our hearts. Following which all read again together:)
We are part of a web of life that makes us one with all humanity, one with all the universe.
We are grateful for the miracle of consciousness that we share, the consciousness that gives us the power to remember, to love, to care. Amen.

Our closing hymn is number 101, “Abide With Me”.

Benediction: (classic)