Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Tonight I attended the Maundy Thursday service at Victoria House with eight other members of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. "Maundy" means "Commandment," which recalls the commandment Jesus gave to His disciples at the Last Supper: Love One Another.

I didn't realize that Evening Prayer preceded the service or I would have arrived ten minutes earlier because I love the morning and evening offices of prayer; I pray them alone most days and always jump at the chance to do it in a group. I came in just as Greg was reading the second lesson: John 17, one of my favorite chapters as Jesus prays not only for His disciples but also for us believers centuries later. We finished the Evening Prayers (would have been called Evensong if we sung it) and then started into the Communion Service as usual.

The difference between this Communion Service and all others is that tonight we were celebrating the Institution of the Lord's Supper, the fact that Jesus held a final Passover meal with His disciples and during that meal, He declared Himself the Messiah by breaking the afilkomen (the bread of slavery) and declaring it to be His body and then after supper He drank from the cup of Elijah that was reserved for the coming Messiah and declared it His blood of the covenant.

But after the meal, Christ did something extraordinary. Here's the story as related in the Gospel reading for the Maundy Thursday service: the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, starting in the first verse:

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them until the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, "Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said unto him, "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." Peter saith unto him, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." Simon Peter saith unto him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." Jesus saith unto him, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all." For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, "Ye are not all clean." So after he has washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me 'Master' and 'Lord': and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."

So Father Acker wrapped an apron-like towel around his waist (after he jokingly said he wasn't going to remove his garments like Christ, thankyouverymuch) and asked us each to remove one shoe. Filling a china basin with water, he knelt in front of each of us in turn, pouring water from a china pitcher over our feet, washing them with his hands, then drying them with a fresh hand towel for each of us. After he dried each foot, he kissed the foot, looked up into the eyes of each person, and said, "Thank you for your service to our Lord."

I always find this part of the service strangely moving. I feel rather exposed with my foot being washed in front of everyone and by our priest!??! I have come to totally understand Peter's response (So-Cal style) of "No way, Jesus! You're not washing MY feet!" (And despite some of my male Catholic friends' reminders that having a clean foot with a fresh pedicure entirely misses the point, I at least made sure that my toenails had been polished within the last week, as was also the case with all of the women who were discussing this matter....)

Of course, in Biblical times, everyone wore sandals in Palestine, and people's feet became very dusty from the dirt roads and were also most likely encrusted with animal dung from the roads as well. So washing guests' feet was a job given to the lowest servant in a household. Therefore, Jesus washing the disciples' feet demonstrated His love and service to them as no verbal example could have. And He also stated, "You should do as I have done." So Christ gave His disciples a last lesson, an active parable of the servant-Master, especially as the disciples had just been arguing over which of them would sit on the left and right of Jesus in His Kingdom. So this footwashing was also a reprimand in a way, showing the disciples (and us as well) that those who wish to lead must do so by serving others in all humility.

It was a beautiful service tonight, and I want to spend some time this evening "watching and praying" as Jesus did on the night in which He was betrayed. Although "the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," I plan to stay up somewhat late tonight in prayer, preparing myself for the fasting and sorrow of Good Friday, the patient waiting of Holy Saturday, and the joy of Resurrection Sunday.

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