Thursday, April 21, 2011

Themes in Holy Week - Maundy Thursday

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. 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, 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
(John 13:1-15)

Our Christian Communion with one another truly began when a Jewish rabbi and prophet was about to die and he knew it. His disciples sensed it too. So, just as many people before, and many people thereafter, he gathered his best friends, (family members) together for a meal. It probably was a Seder Meal. 'No reason to be too hasty this time though.

It's so emotional reading about the Jesus' Last Supper from this side of history. Did the disciples argue about who would be the greatest in the new Kingdom of God? Did Jesus get on his hands and knees and wash his disciples feet. Or... did they tell one another stories about the times they spent with one another in Galilee. Did they nervously laugh about the people they had encountered on their way to this Passover celebration. People act so insecurely when death lingers close by ... was it simply silent, somber.

Whatever we remember now, when we gather with one another to "do this in remembrance of me" ritual; we should remember that this communion is very human, very earthy, very much a family affair with everlasting yet ever-simple overtones. Early Christian communion and community gatherings weren't much more than an evening meal with friends, the reading of scripture. However, their "agape" was a meaningful beginning of a ritual that brought the Reign of God into the here and now just like Jesus sat down with his disciples then and there.

It's no wonder that the first Christians strengthened their communities in Roman catacombs. They believed in bodily resurrections and they needed a place to hide, practice their rituals, and to remember - remember that Jesus Christ came and dwelt among them and those persons that had preceded them in Jerusalem. That's truly profound.

I can't get over how wonderful it is to offer communion bread and wine to people at the altar. It's one of the most powerful and most humbling things about being a priest. There just isn't a whole lot of class or circumstance going on at the altar most of the time. It's just about trying to get closer together to one another and to Jesus the Christ. It's not paradise but it often seems to point towards that sacred space for me. I yearn for places away from the altar rail where similar sorts of communion and community occur. They can be hard to find. Much like the first Maundy Thursday and the early celebrations of the Eucharist that followed, power structures, politics, fear, and death get in the way.

I'll be washing some people's feet in a few hours. I'll be offering them communion. Then, I'll go home and prepare to come back for our Good Friday and Holy Saturday worship services. For now though, while the sun is still up and the mystery of Triduum hasn't quite got here, I think I will sit in silence and wait for the Lord, his communion, and community to arrive.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.

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