Holy Thursday Meditation
Thank you for all that joined us. Unfortunately, the tech department (me) didn’t hit record. So we don’t have a video until next time.
Below are a few reflections on Maundy Thursday from Cherie:
Morgan has reminded me of GK Chesterton’s observation that each generation loses the gospel in unique ways and each generation is charged with the taking of recovering it. In our unique culture, we must personally and collectively take responsibility to resolutely follow the Guiding Spirit to recover the Treasure of the Good News of Jesus that has become buried again under debris very particular to our personal and cultural story.
It seems to Morg and me that among the many exquisite recoveries in our time for certain communities of North American Christians (we recognize that many of our Catholic, Anglican and mainline Protestant brothers and sisters never lost this part of the Gospel) is the recovery of communal liturgy and a sacramental worldview.
What I mean by the sacramental worldview is the recognition that all of creation is sacramental as a “visible sign of a yet-invisible Reality.”
Surely the whole of the Cosmos offers visible, audible, taste-able, touchable and smell-able signs of the goodness, grandeur, beauty, brilliance, and most certainly, the humor of the Triune Creator.
When it comes to our common life of love, hope and faith, the Spirit is recovering for those of us who have lost them a variety of embodied practices that help us experience the With-God life. For example, we are being given back the Eucharist as the Mystery of Whole-Person Oneness and Union with the very Body and Blood of our Self-Giving Savior. We are being given back the Liturgical Calendar as a life-giving and reliable structure upon which to re-member the Whole Story of the Gospel year after year. We are being given back contemplative practices including meditation, mindful movement and breathing, silence, solitude and centering prayer to help us connect below our cognitions to moment by moment union with the Ever-Present Spirit and Love of God.
To this end, Morgan and I wanted to share with you a taste of a Holy Thursday Practice that has been meaningful for us over the past 18 years.
Holy Thursday commemorates the day and evening before Jesus’ crucifixion, including Jesus’ startling washing of his disciples feet and his final passover meal with his friends on the night of his betrayal. Observing this special day has been an aspect of a shared life of confidence in Messiah Jesus across millenia and continents of Christendom. From the practice of priests washing their parishioners feet throughout the dioceses of the Catholic and Anglican churches from Rome to Rwanda to Togo to the Philippines, India, Ireland, Brazil, the U.S. and beyond, to the practice of the British Queen and King to wash the feet of the people even through the reign of King James II. From the changing of vestments in liturgical congregations from the dark purple of the Lenten Fast to the bright white of the radiant Self-giving of Jesus, to the silencing of bells across northern Europe from Maundy Thursday to the Easter Vigil, the observances of this day have formed the imaginations and physiology of humans around the world.
Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday, “maundy” being a derivation of the Latin word “mandatum” which means “to command.” The title “Maundy Thursday” alludes to Jesus’ statement recorded in the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel that in washing his disciples’ feet, he was instating a renewed command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-15).
In light of the whole narrative scope of the Hebrews and Christian scriptures, we see that in his self-giving, others-serving act of radical humility, Jesus, the Truly Human One, was fulfilling and affirming the whole of the law and the Prophets. As he tenderly washed the calloused feet of his followers and friends, the God-Man overflowed in love for His Father from an integrated heart, soul, mind and body, and loved his friends with the same love that the Father has for Him.
In this moment, Jesus recovered for All Time the Original Goodness of the Human Race as image-bearers overflowing with the Love and Life of God, participating with the Trinity to carry creation forward in innovative service, exuberant love, creative power and harnessed authority.
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet
1It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
And here is the Maundy Thursday litany Cherie wrote and shared with us:
1. My Lord Jesus, we have walked the narrow, crooked side streets of Jerusalem to meet you and our friends in this room tonight. You said you wanted one more night together, one more night with us. What did you mean by these strange words—one more night? And so up the dim staircase to this upper room we come to celebrate this night of Passover with you.
2. Jesus, what is it that we see in your face tonight as we take our places around this crowded table. Here are many of those with whom we have walked; Peter and Andrew, Mary and Martha, Lazarus and Levi, Joanna, Susanna, John and James. The table is spread for our traditional meal. Martha climbs the stairs with another plateful of food. We scan the room amidst the laughter and the hum of conversation, and we catch your eyes.
3. What a week it has been, Lord. We arrived at the home of dear Martha, Mary and Lazurus in Bethany last Friday. When they opened their small door to greet you, did we see emotion shadow your face? Behind your smile of affection, was it vulnerability that we saw, your eyes affirming the simultaneous truths of your heart: your need for their love and friendship. Your Desire. Your Loneliness. Fatigue. Sorrow. And yet the awesome strength and determination of your soul.
4. You seemed to enjoy that Sabbath so much. A day of rest and friendship, laughter and story-telling. We clamored for our favorites stories—the story of your birth, your time in the desert, the wild tales of your adventures before any of us met you. You recounted with twinkling eyes your first impression of Peter and Andrew. Peter did his famous impression of Martha’s face when she saw Lazarus come out of the grave, still wrapped in burial clothes. We laughed again remembering James’ particular astonishment when you fed the crowds outside of Capernaum. Memories. Stories. Life. Friendship.
5. Yet Jesus, there were moments when we stole a look at your face and saw something below the enjoyment of that evening. We caught sight of tears brimming in your eyes as you scanned the faces of those ones you love. We saw you bow your head and sink deep into your heart—as if in grief and heaviness. What was it, Jesus?
6. Sunday we followed you into Jerusalem. The commencement of Passover was only a few days away. The road was filled with men, women and children from all over Israel, those who had been following you for months now, as well as folks from Bethany who had witnessed the moment you called Lazarus back from the grip of death. The crowd swelled as hundreds along the road joined in.
7. Oh Jesus, the exhilaration. You sent us to find the foal of a donkey for you to ride into the city. After so many months of restraint, you did not stop us when we shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Blessed is the King of Israel! Hosanna—Save, Save!” Jubilation. Expectation. Confidence. Wild Praise. We remember the priests and officials watching with venom in their eyes. No matter to us. For finally, finally you were taking your rightful place as King.
8. Jesus, what were those tears streaming down your face as we neared the city gates? Should we have known then when you began to weep that this triumphal entry was not what we thought. We didn’t understand. Why were you weeping? And we heard you murmur as one whose heart was broken- “Oh Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem—if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring your peace…”
9. Monday we followed you to the Temple. We saw holy rage move across your face over the tables of moneychangers, vendors, and hawkers, those capitalizing off the desperation and need of others. We caught our breath as you overturned the tables of those selling doves. Your zeal made us wholly uncomfortable and thrilled us at once. As the coins scattered across the floor, the din was startling and we all froze. In that moment, you seemed to take the whole crowd into your gaze. You scanned faces and made eye contact with so many. And so many averted your gaze. In firmly, unapologetically, you declared, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer.”
10. That day and next you taught in the Temple; the people hung on your words. What tension pulsed between you and the priests, the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. We saw their spies in the crowd and they tried to catch you in your words. With false flatter in their voices, their contempt seething through, they questioned you: “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Cesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we pay?”
11. You answered brilliantly and ravished us all with delight and awe. No one had challenged the religious leaders in this way. We watched their faces as you locked gaze with them yet warned the crowd of the teachers of the law who covet the most prestigious seats in the synagogue and yet devour the widow and the orphan. The hot rage on their faces turned cold with malice. And Jesus, something in our hearts faltered in that moment. What price would you pay for exposing those who use their power to tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders and who are unwilling to lift even the smallest finger to aid them. Though our hearts tremored, you held fast their gaze, no fear in your eyes. You were breath-taking that day, dearest Jesus. Strong, strange, unafraid. Glorious.
12. When you left the Temple and made your way up to the Mount of Olives, hundreds followed you. You said extraordinary, unsettling things to us that afternoon. Stories of virgins and their lamps and the coming of a bridegroom, stories of a master entrusting money to his servants and beckoning those who trusted his heart to come and share in his kingdom and his happiness, stories of a Noble King endowing the inheritance of his Kingdom to those who had loved the least of his brothers. You spoke steadily, slowly, yet sometimes with a faraway look in your eyes as you scanned the desert to the east. “Watch out so that no one deceives you,” you continued. “Dreadful days will come, war, famine, earthquakes. These are the beginnings of birth pangs. You must be on your guard. These will be days of distress unequaled until now—and never to be equaled again. Because of the increase of greed, the love of most will grow cold, but she who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the culmination will come.”
13. “In those days, following that distress, all of humanity will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” When you were finished, the crowd was riven. Only slowly did it make its way back down toward Jerusalem. Suddenly, you turned back to the few of us who were walking with you along the path, your eyes sober yet yearning: Friends, the Passover is two days away. Know this: the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the rulers and will be crucified.” We were dumbstruck. You looked into our eyes for a final moment, then began to walk ahead of us down the mountain.
14. Tuesday evening, we gathered for a meal in your honor at the home of Simon the Leper whom you had cleansed. Simon was beside himself with pleasure to have you in his home.. And how you honored him with your pleasure to come! Then, in the midst of rowdy conversation, a woman entered the room. Mary. Her face was pale with grief, her eyes swollen and red from crying. She locked eyes with yours and held your gaze, walking slowly, deliberately around the table until she stood behind you. Instantly, the lively conversation halted.
15. Mary opened an alabaster jar and began to pour the fragrant oil over the crown of your head. You leaned your head back and closed your eyes as the oil’s spicy-exotic fragrance filled the room. She brought her fingers to rest on your forehead, then slowly and firmly massaged the precious oil through your dark hair, down your temples, and along the length of your jaw. We looked at your face and saw the tears slowly streaming down your cheek. Jesus, what were your tears? What place in your masculine heart did her touch and care and attention open? Were they tears of relief for one moment of being known and being accompanied by a devoted friend on such a painful path? In all of your humanity, in all of your masculinity, you responded to her touch. We all watched. And wondered.
16. We didn’t know what to say. Most of us didn’t even know what to think. Yet a fury and offense brewed in the eyes of a few. Judas began to speak, his words laced with rage and challenge. “Why was not this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
17. And Jesus, you opened your eyes, squared your face to his and met his gaze. With unflinching strength, you said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but she, she did what she could. My friends, my brothers, she poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for my burial. I say to you, to each one of you, wherever the good news of the Kingdom of God is announced throughout the world, what she has done to me will also be told—in memory of her.” And then you turned to her and whispered something that no one else could hear. She nodded her head slowly as tears coursed down her own face. And then she left the room.
18. Yesterday we spent in preparation for tonight, in preparation for the Passover Feast. It was such a regular day, Jesus. And yet our hearts were troubled. All of the events of the week churned in our minds. What was about to happen? We kept searching your face to know, looking above all for assurance. As you walked in from the street, lifting a jar of wine to carry upstairs, looking across the rooftops toward the temple, we tried to catch your gaze. And you offered it. With all your heart, you offered it. You turned from looking out at the City to looking directly at us, your face spreading with light. The light of care, warmth, knowing, familiarly, affection and delight. Yet shaded it seems with sorrow and yearning as well. We don’t fully understand your expression, Jesus. But we love it, and want to stand in your gaze forever.
19. And so we have come, Jesus. We have come to this room above a dark street in Jerusalem to be with you whom we love, to celebrate this ancient night with our master and friend. Lord Jesus, what will this evening hold? We seek to meet your gaze, dear Jesus, and to follow you always. Come, dear Jesus, come…
All of this,
Cherie and Morgan