Summary: An opportunity to reflect on some of the key themes of Maundy Thursday, as we begin to prepare for Good Friday
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen,
Today we enter the Holy Triduum, the three days which changed everything.
Maundy Thursday is replete with signs and symbols, so much for us to think about, and to celebrate before we sit vigil in the garden of gethsemane with Christ later this evening.
Passover, was the highlight of the year for the house of Israel, because at the heart of the celebration is the Haggadah, the re-telling of the story of freedom from slavery in Egypt, and the beginning of the journey to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. A land for God’s chosen people.
Our first reading tonight comes at the end of the slavery as detailed in the book of exodus in the Jewish Torah, the five books of Moses which begin the Jewish bible.
This part of the scripture details how the Passover feast should be eaten, fully dressed and hurriedly, and that this will be a perpetual observance, a festival of thanks to God.
By the time that Jesus sat with his disciples, the urgency of the meal would have passed into memory, but the reason for celebrating it would still be deeply etched onto the hearts of everyone who sat down to eat.
The Hebrews had been praying for deliverance, and God answered their prayer through Moses, and the events that had led to this moment had caused much pain and suffering for the Egyptians, as Pharaoh was not willing to free them from slavery.
God’s final decision was to bring death upon the firstborn of Egypt, to punish Pharaoh for his insolence, whilst passing over the Hebrews who had daubed their lintels and doorposts with the blood of a lamb. Through that sacrifice the Hebrews received their redemption from their oppressors, and set forth on a journey that would take them home, to a land where they would live free.
This was God’s promise to his people, and today they continue to observe this festival, and whilst it can happen at different times depending on the lunar cycle, this year Passover coincides with Easter, and Jewish communities around the world are currently in the midst of the eight-day Passover festival which will conclude on Easter Day.
It is with this past history in mind that the scene is set for what we call the last supper.
Jesus had gathered the twelve to eat this meal of thanksgiving, no doubt he would have led the many prayers and the blessings, but before he did any of that we encounter the first of many differences on a night like no other.
He washed their feet. In one sense there is nothing out of the ordinary in what was happening, it would have been normal practice for anyone entering a house to clean their feet from the dusty roads, but this is Jesus performing this menial task that would normally be carried out by the servants of the house.
Straight away we see the servant nature of his life, he could have easily left it to someone else, or asked one of the disciples but no, it was Jesus who did this. He wanted to be clear that his task, his duty was to his people, to show us by doing, to get his hands dirty as it were, and get stuck in with what needs to be done. Normally the clergy would offer this act on this day to any who come forward, because performing this act ourselves reminds us of our vows of service that we have made to God and his people, and whilst I can’t speak of others, I always find it an incredibly moving act of service.
I know from the conversations that took place during the lent groups that many others said that they would be willing to do the same, and wash someone else’s feet, but would be reluctant to allow someone to wash theirs.
I found that to be a significant point, and echoes deeply with Simon Peters words, “you shall never wash my feet.” Because service isn’t always about giving, at times it’s also about receiving, to allow ourselves to be ministered to, and letting down those walls so that we can have the opportunity to experience the fullness of mercy and grace that we are being offered.
This of course leads to Jesus using this act as a teaching example, to show that he is expecting them to lead by example. He knew that time was running out, and he continued to show them by deed who they were, and how he expected them to act,
These men may have been the first disciples, but whilst this may have, left unchecked, brought later prestige or perceived importance, Jesus was helping them to see that the power and authority which they (unknowingly at this time) were going to receive, needed to be used in a way which was authentic and true to the teaching that they had received from Him.