Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday - the name comes from the latin for commandment, and recognizes Jesus' commandment to his disciples after he washes their feet to love one another as he has loved them and us. On a more literal level it is the institution of the Last Supper as it has been passed down to us in the Communion Service. To take bread and wine, bless them as Jesus did, and to share them with those gathered around the table with us in love and charity. This loving of community is a hard commandment to follow. It is even harder when, just a short while later, he is betrayed by a kiss from one of his own.

I believe today gives me the greatest glimpse into the foundations of the Christian tradition as I understand the day-to-day living of it. To serve those around me as generously and graciously as I would serve Jesus. To wait patiently and expectantly for the outcome, even when it seems that all is lost. To bask in the loveliness of each moment as it comes, full of the power and presence of the divine, even knowing that the loveliness may be hidden in what appears to me to be a heap of mouldering refuse.

Within the tradition I was raised in, today is the day to celebrate and remember the Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, and the Vigil in the Garden. The services this evening throughout the Anglican, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic world share similarities in that they will, to some extent, re-enact each of these events. The Last Supper is communion. The washing of the feet often brings people to a point of discomfort, for who wants to have the priest (or bishop) kneel in front of them and wash their feet? It is even more uncomfortable when one realizes that the person kneeling there so humbly before you is there as the hands of Jesus, not as themselves only. My favorite part comes after the service, though. The vigil in the garden.

Growing up, my parish would decorate a special altar of repose, where the consecrated host would be placed with reverence and surrounded by white linens, vases of white flowers, and as many candles as we could fit onto the small portable altar. The church was left silent and available to any and all who wished to come and keep vigil with Jesus from the ending of the service on Thursday until noon on Good Friday, when that service started.

I loved to sit in the dark silence of the little church, steeped in the aroma of years of incense and candles, and watch the small flame of the red votive candle dance in the reflection of the immaculately polished paten beside it casting a rosy glow onto the white of the consecrated Host. This was holiness. Me and God, waiting for who knows what. As I grew older and went to a different church there were other traditions. I tried to keep the vigil, but without an altar of repose and with the church stripped bare in preparation for Good Friday I felt bereft. No candle shining through the dark, no aura of incense to remind me of the holiness of this place. There was no presence to wait with me, and I was plunged prematurely into the darkness of Good Friday. I wanted to bask just a little longer at the feet of the living Jesus, to offer my presence back to Him in His hour of agonized prayer as He had been with me in mine.

Tonight I seek again that moment of close communion with Jesus. The depth of the beginning time of the Triduum - the holy days of Eastertide. I am going to a different church, one that is a bit closer to the traditions of my childhood. But not only do I know that the church is different, I am different. I, too, am in a time of waiting for my trials to be completed. I, too, am suffering still from the sting of betrayal. I feel ready for this season this year, and I am throwing myself headlong into the rituals as I know them.

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