Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

I had every intention of writing every day this week, and posting each set of readings for each day. I follow them myself in the lectionary, so I thought it might be helpful for others to follow, too, and thought that posting the readings here might help. But it doesn’t help, if I don’t get them up here, and I didn’t.

Cape Ann is having an exquisite Maundy Thursday, with sunshine and strong breezes, fragrant warmth rising from the warming earth. Children play on the church’s playground, swinging and climbing; their voices mingle in happy laughter. We’re so far from those days in Jerusalem, as Jesus and the disciples gathered for Passover. Underneath this day, for me at least, the pulse of Holy Week beats strongly and steadily. The beautiful afternoon, with its laughing children and bright forsythia, has a somber edge, like glimpsing a bank of clouds on the far horizon. We know the storm is out there somewhere, and soon it will come in from the sea.

Yet, Maundy Thursday’s service, though somber, is beautiful, too, this Last Supper. The ritual of foot-washing, which we observe at St. Paul, becomes a sacrament, a preaching in action. Small gestures of preparation today take on great significance. Our Paschal Candle was just slightly too large for the holder, even though we ordered the same candle size we ordered in past years. So today, in one of those moments where I think “they didn’t teach this in seminary,” I used an exacto knife, and then a potato peeler, to shave off some of the excess wax. Each time a long curl of wax came off, I could smell the scent of beeswax, and honey, and see the marks in the candle of the wounds of Christ. It took some time to fix the base so the candle would fit, but the time filled in an oasis of deep quiet, strangely soothing, the kind of queit attention that surfaces in Holy Week, a quietness that comes from somewhere else, some other deep lake of stillness. I love this week, and have from childhood on. There’s a quality to it no other week has, and a gentleness to it, underneath the surface, that is palpable to me.

Tonight, we will gather, and wash feet, and eat a Holy Supper. Over the years, the congregants who have helped me wash feet, and who have had their feet washed, have told me that it has changed them. One woman, who had never been in a service of foot-washing before, said it was the first time she really understood what Jesus was doing there. Seeing it happen changed how she experienced her own discipleship.

When I am washing people’s feet, I think sometimes about the woman, Mary of Bethany in some tellings, who so loved the Lord, that she anointed his feet with nard, and washed them with her hair. Her extravagance, Jesus said, will always be remembered. I am grateful for her example of devotion. And I am grateful, too, for Jesus’ kind attention to his disciples feet, the sweetness of cool water washing away the tiredness of the day.

I think of all the feet I have washed, my family’s feet, my daughters’ youthful feet, my granddaughters’ baby feet, my mother’s aged feet, my parishioners’ feet. Two people I washed last year are no longer with us, and I am grateful for my memory of their feet, the intimacy of knowing the shapes of their toes; the memory lends a sweet poignance to the grief of losing them.

Whether you have your feet washed tonight or not, may the knowledge of our Lord’s loving service lift your hearts, and inspire you in service to your neighbor. How lovely are the feet of those who bring the Good News of God.
peace, PA

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