God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
may he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
(The Collect for Maundy Thursday)
Unable to meet in our churches, unable to participate in the liturgy which takes us from light into darkness as we contemplate Jesus praying alone in Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion, we are doing Maundy Thursday very differently this year. It is hard to pray the traditional Maundy Thursday collect as we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We cannot share physically in the bread and wine, but we can be together in spirit. Perhaps this enforced eucharistic fast will deepen our appreciation of the gift when we can finally be together and share in the Eucharist once more.
We are hidden away in our homes - much as the disciples were in fact when you think about it – in an upper room, away from the crowds. We are aware of danger– not of arrest and persecution, but fear of the coronavirus, wondering whether it will touch us and our loved ones. We will experience the next three days in a very different way from previous years. My prayer is that we will each encounter God in new ways, and have our faith strengthened and deepened as a result.
GOSPEL READING John 13 1-17, 31b-35
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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus 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.’11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ 12 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
I remember visiting someone who worked in the East End in the 1950s and 60s – it was very ‘Call the Midwife’. She went round the district looking after people’s feet as a chiropodist. Feet are such funny things – not exactly the most attractive parts of the human body. Smelly, misshapen, dirty at times, worn and calloused. But when she described her work she told me with a huge smile on her face that she absolutely loved her job. She loved being able to make a difference to people whose feet were causing them pain and discomfort; she loved being able to chat to people as she worked on their feet, never recoiling from them, but delighting in being with them and sharing their lives in some small way. As I listened to her speak I thought of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and I remarked to her at the end of our conversation that the work that she did was a real vocation, an act of love. Many today are serving in all kinds of ways in our care homes, hospitals, in our schools and supermarkets, in the delivery of post and the collection of household rubbish. We are realising what true acts of service look like. Often unnoticed and unappreciated, undervalued in many cases, now we realise how vital they are to the functioning of our society.
We may not feel that we perform spectacular acts of service, we may not get recognition for the work that we do, we may feel that much of what we do is unremarkable or indeed unnoticed, but as we reflect on Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, this brings a fresh perspective on the call to all of us to love one another, as he has loved us. It is really difficult in these times of isolation not to succumb to feelings of despair, when perhaps we feel that the opportunity to serve and be useful and physically be with people as we would want to be has been taken from us. But how can we serve with love and devotion where we are? Can we perform the seemingly small and unnoticed tasks that don’t bring any recognition, save the knowledge that every act of love, every act of service is nothing less than our Christian faith requires of us? As Jesus said, ‘If you do it for the least of these, you do it for me’.
AN IMAGE TO CONTEMPLATE
MUSIC: ‘My Song is love unknown’
PRAYER: Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. (Teresa of Avila (1515–1582))
Jesus says, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you
Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’.
During Holy Week you might like spend some time reading the Passion narrative in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 26:14-27 end).
I wonder what stands out for you this year? Feel free to share any thoughts, questions or impressions that you may have this week.