Thursday 1 April 2021: Maundy Thursday
Old story, new eyes
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Context: an evening Mass of the Last Supper in a suburban congregation. Many of the congregation will have been worshipping each evening during Holy Week
Aim: to explore ways in which a lock-down Maundy Thursday re-enlivens our celebration and opens us to new possibilities
WHERE WE ARE
Step by step. Step by step. Together we’ve been walking through Holy Week, stepping over Sunday’s waving palms, threading our way through the mounting drama. Holy Week is both strange and glorious. Time telescopes and expands as the mysteries of faith are unpeeled around us. The past becomes real in the present and our present is enveloped in this greatest of stories.
And now our feet have carried us into that upper room. So much is familiar – we readily imagine the worn stone walls and the scarred table, the smell of lamp oil and roasting Passover, the air heavy with all that awaits us. We know the space well, we’ve been here so many times before, yet tonight we step in with different eyes, different noses, different ears.
It’s different because last year, we were missing. We gathered, but each of us in our scattered upper rooms, celebrating the familiar in the midst of what we hope will be unique. This evening we’ve returned, and the moving, familiar events of this Maundy night unfold around us again.
In less than an hour, when we step again into Gethsemane to watch and pray, we’ll remember that, even in the darkest times, the luminous Christ is with us. That truth is always before us, but we’ve needed to hold onto it since last Holy Week with all the determination and faith we have.
But before we step into the Garden, our feet are washed and our discipleship is transformed by service, service which is a gift, an example, and a command. The bread of life and cup of salvation are placed on the altar and the Lord steps into our hearts.
WHERE WE WERE
Following the servant Christ, being a servant Church, offering humble service in individual ways: those are themes we’ve always associated with this holy night. Yet our understanding of that service is expanded now. We now know that service encompasses things which once seemed unlikely, even ridiculous. Last year, most of us were called to serve others by doing nothing. That was a type of service which felt even more awkward and undesirable than washing feet. Locked-down, we served by staying in, by avoiding contact, by sacrificing many of the things we longed to do – all for the sake of others.
Now our call to service is once again more active, but we need to retain the shocking strangeness of last year’s call. Perhaps it was that, in our frustration and awkwardness at doing nothing, we came closest to feeling something of Peter’s embarrassment at his Lord’s actions during the Supper.
I’m not suggesting we simply linger with lockdown. That would be unfruitful as well as undesirable. We’ve stepped back into something more familiar and in most ways, we’ve been glad to.
WHERE WE SHALL BE
But we’ve also come to recognise new echoes of our experience in the biblical story. We’ve come to see this evening, this whole week, through different eyes. We’ve stepped into a new appreciation of the familiar thanks to our forced march, for a time, along another path.
Gladly, our steps through Holy Week have regained a well-known rhythm. But they haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through together. That’s what we experience this evening in the upper room. Those events, ancient but new and real and potent for us still, are part of who we are and form us into what we’ll become. We’ve stepped into the upper room, but this isn’t where we’ll stay. We’ll walk from here through fear and violence, death, and despair.
But we don’t stay there either. We keep walking because Maundy Thursday calls us to a new destination. It’s a destination beyond last year’s experiences and beyond this year’s relieved joy. We’re called into an astonishing place, a place inspired by service, a place light filled. It’s a place where we’ll not only see ourselves in new surroundings but as a new people. Exodus people, eucharistic people, servant people, Easter people.
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