The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Maundy Thursday 2021
April 1st, 2021
It has begun: the Paschal Triduum, or the Great Three Days of the Christian year in which we enter into the ritual, sacrament, and story of the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus. On this holy Maundy Thursday, we gather together to remember the One who loves and serves to the end, whose end is soon to come. At the close of the service tonight, the altar will be stripped bare, a stark reminder that Jesus will hang on the cross tomorrow, Good Friday, stripped bare of everything: his clothes, his power, his light, his breath, his life.
Jesus knows that his hour has come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Yet he still time-bound: what must he be thinking in the bustle and din of the Last Supper? In the constant hum of conversation and sharing of news, the clatter and clink of dishes and cups—and a little too much wine—it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. As the disciples jockey for position, arguing about who is the greatest among them, Jesus watches and listens: have they learned nothing? His eyes drift to Judas . . . then to Peter . . . he loves them all, and will love them to the end, all who are his own and in the world.
For a moment or two, he closes his eyes and drifts back in time to Nazareth and the comforts of home, his mother’s bright laughter and Joseph’s strong hand; then to the mountain of his transfiguration and the memory of light—so much light—and the voice of his Father—but then of the devil in the desert and his temptations and taunts. John the Baptist, his cousin, beheaded . . . Jerusalem, the Temple, the crowds of hungering bodies and souls . . . his coming anguish . . . what must he be feeling?
Taking a long slow breath, Jesus opens his eyes and gets up from the table. No one notices as he takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, and pours water into a basin. Suddenly the room goes quiet: What in the world is he doing, wonder the disciples?
Kneeling down, Jesus beckons them to him—come—so that he may wash their muddy dusty feet as would a servant—signifying a profound passage—a new beginning that is also an end. Not surprisingly Simon Peter protests, and blurts out: You will never wash my feet! You are not my servant but my Lord and Master! He is yet to understand that the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom, in which the greatest is the least and servant of all. Turning power on its head, Jesus says to Peter: Unless I wash you, you have no share in me—to which Peter then exuberantly exclaims: not only my feet please, but head-shoulder-knees-and-toes, knees and toes!
Lest we forget, we are no different than the disciples who gathered that night so long ago in need of Jesus’ tender embrace and being washed clean of sin and death. Like Judas, we are the betrayer, and the denier like Peter; like James and John who will be unable to keep watch and pray with Jesus; like the others who will forsake him in his darkest hour. We have strayed from love and loving one another, and often.
When Jesus takes off his robe, he symbolically strips himself of his glory and wraps himself with the towel of human flesh. He shows all of his disciples in every age, what is the essence of love; that in Him, every person is precious and worthy of being bathed in God’s love and forgiveness.
As we make our pilgrimage to the table tonight, we do so to recall and make present the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the transcendent meal of new life and communion in the body and blood of Jesus. Especially during these Great Three days, let us remember that the “sacred language of Christianity is the body,” for the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (adapted from Brother Laurence WCCM). Jesus did not give us a theory, a set of rules, or even a religion per se; he gave us himself, his body, his life, and his love that it becomes our own. As you are fed by Jesus’ body and blood, pray for your deepest need. As Father John washes Phillip’s feet—symbolically for the whole congregation during these times of social distancing—imagine that Jesus is washing your feet—how does it feel to be touched by Jesus and bathed in the Savior’s love? Pray to the Lord to bring healing to whatever is broken, on whatever level of being.
Let us then pray with Jesus at the hour of his greatest need, for the hour is upon him; the bell has tolled. Little children, he says, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; but where I am going, you cannot come. Evil has entered into the heart of one of his disciples. The cross awaits. Jesus is preparing to return to the Father. The Spirit trembles and groans. The Incarnate Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was God, stoops in love to the bittersweet end. It is a shattering moment of blessing.
But as Jesus tells us: if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. If. Do we know these things? Will we do them? Will we love? If we are to have the strength and spirit to continue Jesus’ ministry, to take up his towel of love and bathe the world’s wounds in his name, we cannot be divided. Let bitter strife and discord cease within our own hearts and between us, that we make real our union in Christ and embody his commandant to love one another as he loves us.
May we go courageously but gently into this holy but dark night as did Jesus; for though great light such as His evokes great shadow, an even greater shock of Revelation awaits. Amen.