May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, My Rock and My Salvation.
Maundy Thursday has always felt like a pause for me. We have done Palm Sunday. We are anticipating the grief and remorse of good Friday. This is a moment when time seems to stop. The Last Supper takes place and Jesus washes the disciple’s feet.
I need a pause right now. The news of atrocities in Ukraine gets more grim every day. COVID is running rampant again. In China we hear of people confined to their apartments and literally starving in their homes.
While war and pandemic are topmost in the news, we know that there is a steady drumbeat of challenges around the world and at home.
So a pause is welcome. But beyond catching our breath, how does the story of Maundy Thursday ground us as a community of faith at this pivotal moment between the jubilation of Palm Sunday and the grief of Good Friday?
How do we use this moment – the actions we will take together during the rest of the service – to renew our commitments to our community and each other as we walk in the way of love?
As I prepared for this day, I found myself pondering three questions
1) What was this day like for the disciples?
2) WHY did Jesus wash the feet of the disciples?
3) Why do we re-enact the washing of feet?
Taken together, they provide a path forward for me of this pause in Holy Week.
First, What was this day like for the disciples?
It’s holy week. We know that now. We know how the story ends. The disciples did not.
For a moment, let’s put ourselves in the mind of the disciples. They don’t know quite how this will end. But, they have been given signs and, perhaps, if they have been listening closely and watching with the eyes of faith then we may have gotten glimpses of the agony to come.
Jesus has told them before that the hour was coming – when he would be betrayed, when he would be offered up.
He has told them that he goes to prepare a place for them – and for us too. They have seen the miracles. They have heard him preach and teach with a fierce compassionand a bold humility. They have followed him.
And, now, ….they are gathered for a Passover meal. The sun is setting. They can smell the Passover lamb roasting. The unleavened bread is being prepared. Surely there is comfort in the fellowship and ancient rituals associated with the Passover meal.
As we have watched him do time after time, Jesus disrupts the flow.
Here’s John’s account – “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
He got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
As we know from the gospel, this is confusing to the disciples.
Second – Why did Jesus wash his discipline’s feet?
The meaning of washing feet is layered: it’s said that in the ancient world, a host would offer water for guests to wash their feet. So, washing feet is a sign of hospitality —of welcoming and care. But that’s washing your own feet or perhaps letting a servant wash your feet for you.
So why is this happening? I think there’s an important hint in the name that we have attached to this day – Maundy Thursday. The word maundy comes from an ancient French word that means to command. Think of the similar word mandate.
When Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, it’s a profound act of humility. He is doing the task of a servant.
Why is son of God doing something so lowly? It’s a humble act of service that has a command embedded in it –
There is specific command that Jesus spoke after washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, i=f you have love for one another.”
So – third question – Why do we re-enact the washing of feet?
There are many reasons but my take is that it’s about Love. Pure, simple, kind, generous, honest love. The kind of love that is manifested not only t by the crucifixion and resurrection but by seeing our Lord knell down and wash feet.
Jesus anoints the feet of the disciples and foreshadows just what the life of faith might mean. It will mean humble service – and it will mean their own suffering too – and it will mean being living sacrifices for one another and for the sake of Christ.
The washing of their feet is as much an act of preparation as it is an act of service.
Our lives are not easy. This act of service joins us as a community to love and support each other in the trials and tribulations we face.
As we head into Easter, the celebration of resurrection, let’s remember Jesus commandment to us —Love one another, as I have loved you.
When we are struggling, it’s time to reach out with kindness to our neighbors.
When faced with the overwhelming news of the day, let us pause and act in love.
What does that look like? It starts with simple acts of care. When we see those around us in need, it’s time to wrap that symbolic apron around our waist, kneel down and reach out with love and caring.
This is our call to love fiercely and tenderly.