Maundy Thursday St. Mary’s Regina Rvd. Paula Foster
April 14, 2022
This is a holy, sacred time and a holy, sacred place. This time and place are both holy and sacred because of two gifts that God has given each one of us. The first of these gifts is the ability to remember. What would we be if we could not remember the events, people and places we encounter in our lives? We’d be only creatures who react out of instinct for self-preservation like any other animal.
But because we CAN remember, we are not just creatures of the present, but people with a past and memories that influence, guide and shape our lives in the present and for the future. We remember the joys and the sorrows of our upbringing, of our growing up and going out into the world. At a deeply fundamental level, our memories root us and help us define who we are as people. We become separated from ourselves without our memory and that is part of the tragedy of diseases that destroy our ability to remember.
Our memories give us strength, confidence, identity, and a sense of purpose. Our memories also cause us to feel pain as we carry our hurts and sorrows from the past. And in this, they often point to where we need to seek healing.
The second of these gifts God has given us is the ability to ritualize. Through rituals, we intentionally express our thoughts and feelings to each other and perhaps more importantly, to God. Jesus understood the importance…..the profound power that ritual holds for us and the scriptures we heard tonight are filled with ritual actions of gathering, blessing, taking, breaking, giving, washing.
Jesus has gathered his closest friends in the upper room of one of his followers to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. You and I know (along with Jesus) that this is the last time Jesus and his disciples will be together. In a few short hours everything will change forever. This night is steeped in the traditions and memories of everyone around the table. However, the events of this particular meal will be engraved on their minds and passed on to us. They would remember forever the moment Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them to eat as his body….and the cup of wine, blessed and given for all to drink as his blood of the new covenant. It took them a while to realize that they and all who follow after were called to be HIS body. There was no way for them to know that two thousand years later, you and I would break the bread and drink from the cup as they did in that room on that last night.
Something else was remembered. At some point in the meal, Jesus rose from the table, took the rough towel and the water container set by the entrance, and returned to the table. Instead of sitting down, he took off his robe and turning to Peter, kneeled before him to wash his feet. Peter was caught off guard…completely overwhelmed by this unexpected gesture. We can imagine how he felt…embarrassed, astonished, even angry and he tries to gain control of this situation by refusing to let Jesus even touch his feet. After all, that’s what servants do….not the Messiah! Silence quickly settles around the room. “You will never wash my feet!” And Jesus tells his friend, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” In other words, “This is how it has to be, Peter. This is the moment when you choose.” (Pause) The only sound in the room was the sound of the water softly splashing and trickling as his hands tended them one by one, until the task was done.
When he finished, he placed the basin and towel aside and returned to the silent table to explain. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Memory…the image of Jesus bent over the basin washing their feet in the upper room has come to us down the centuries. Also, down the centuries has come the constant conflict between Jesus’ teaching of that scene and the part of our human nature that makes it almost impossible for us to accept His teaching. The unforgettable image of Jesus kneeling and performing the most menial of tasks, washing dirty feet, is seared into their memories. But Jesus knows us and knows what he is doing……knows that he has to challenge all human images and concepts of power, authority and leadership. Through the simple act of washing their feet, Jesus accentuates the difficult irony each of us faces: ultimate power in the kingdom of God is shown in service to others.
It’s easy for us to say “I know that”. But it is probably the point at which the Kingdom of God causes us the most conflict within our human experience. We struggle with this idea of service. In a few moments each of us will have the opportunity to participate in the ritual…allowing someone else to serve in the same way as Jesus…through the washing of our feet. Your feelings and thoughts may be like Peter’s and that’s OK, but I ask you to think about your response.
Tonight’s images, rituals, and traditions stir our memories and remind us that we are required to invest all that we are….to follow our Lord Jesus…where ever he leads. We must be willing to RECEIVE the service of others as well as to SERVE others in His name….knowing always that the act of offering ourselves will require that we move beyond the established social and economic boundaries of our lives into the lives of others. Trusting in God’s abundant grace, we surrender our personal comfort levels to touch and be touched with the love of God. AMEN.