Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
It seems like we’re so far from where this whole thing started. So far from those days beside the lake tending the nets. So far from that invitation to come and see. But the decisive moments we mark this night go back much further even than that.
In a wonderous and mysterious way this night has been present to God from the very beginning when the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This night and the days of this Holy Triduum usher us into the fullness of God’s time in which these pivotal actions are always wholly present. We return to make this remembrance; to do more than flip the pages of a scrapbook and recall fond memories, but to truly re-member, to re-present Jesus here, to encounter the real and living presence of Christ.
We timebound creatures are forgetful and eternal God holds all time in hand. As our lives continue their meandering way we are given these precious gifts by which to return and to dwell in the love of God.
Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10) 11-14
Psalm 116 1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
One of the most chilling scenes in all of Scripture, at least for me, comes within the context of tonight’s gospel reading from John. While we did not read it this evening, it forms a piece of the story of that first Maundy Thursday. Jesus and the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room. The foot washing has taken place, and Jesus speaks of the one who would betray him. Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me….So when [Jesus] had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot…. [After] receiving the piece of bread, [Judas] immediately went out. And it was night.
Whenever I read those four words, and it was night, a chill goes up and down my spine.
For our first century forebears, and perhaps for you as a child, night was a time of uncertainty, of loneliness, of isolation, of fear. Who has not, at one time or another, been afraid of the dark, been afraid of the night? Perhaps you still are. I know that as I child, I was. I was afraid of the darkness under my bed, and worse, the dark void of the open closet. I would whimper until one of my older brothers, with whom I shared my bedroom, would get up and close the closet door. Perhaps there is still something about the night that frightens you. Who has not been nervous walking down a dark street in the dead of night? I know that sometimes I am. Perhaps there is still something about the dark that frightens you.
Every time I hear these words, and it was night, a chill goes up and down my spine, because it reminds me that night still has the power to make us afraid.
Maundy Thursday. If you’re anything like me, you may have to be reminded each year what the word “maundy” means; it’s not a word that comes up in everyday conversations. “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get our English word “mandate.” Mandatum, then, refers to a mandate or a command. In the context of tonight’s liturgy, it is tied to Jesus’ words in John 13:34, where he gives his disciples a mandatum novum, a “new command,” namely, to love one another as he has loved them.
What’snewabout that? we might ask. After all, hasn’t God always been a God of love, and haven’t God’s people always been instructed to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself”? (Luke 10:27)[ii]This command did not originate with Jesus and his followers; it was deeply embedded in the religious tradition they practiced.[iii]
The command itself isn’t new, but the radical way in which Jesus teaches and embodies it surprises and challenges Jesus’ disciples; it goes beyond their expectations[iv]:
Tonight, some of us have come here specifically to perform the ancient Christian ritual of foot-washing in which we seek to imitate Jesus, the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Some of us will recoil from this intimate act of pure service. To touch another person crosses a boundary. But piercing that boundary seems to me to have the potential of beginning to free us from the burden of fear. I think that this is what Jesus was doing when he stooped to wash the disciples’ feet. Trying to soothe his own fear in seeking the nearness and closeness of those who were closest to him. Indeed, seeking their very physicality and longing to touch them.
But, intimacy presupposes trust. Without trust, intimacy is impossible. That makes touching another fraught with risk. And this is something that we need to acknowledge to ourselves and one another. Something to seriously consider before we undertake what we are about to do. Feet in particular have always carried connotations of intimacy and closeness. It’s a theme that resonates through both Old and New Testament books.
Some will not be able to perform this act. For one reason or for a hundred reasons, this might be something that we are unable to do. Possibly it carries too much risk for some of us. If that is where you find yourself, suspend self-judgment; simply let that be.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live. I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight we will understand why this is true.
Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples.
"We live in a world where Me is king. But we are citizens of another country, whose king is a servant, whose orb is a towel, whose scepter a wash basin, whose crown is humility, and whose motto is service. As citizens and subjects of that kingdom, we cannot swear ultimate allegiance in any other way than taking up our towels, holding our basins, and getting down on our knees." – Br. James Koester
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgy commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks.
The word maundy is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet, an event we reenact and remember in the liturgy. At the conclusion of our Eucharist, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. We keep watch through the night, here at the moment of Jesus' greatest need. On Maundy Thursday, as you are fed by God's body and blood, pray for your deepest need. As your feet are washed, ask God to bring healing to what is broken in you.
Where is your deepest need right now?
- Anthems sung by the Schola
- “Now my tongue the mystery telling”
- “Stay with me”
- Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
- Ubi Caritas
- Go to dark Gethsemane
- "God's Longing" – Br. Todd Blackham
On Maundy Thursday, Br. Todd Blackham urges us to experience the depths to which Jesus has gone – moving heaven and earth – out of God's profound longing to be reunited with us.
- "And It Was Night" – Br. James Koester
This fear-filled Holy Week, Br. James Koester encourages us to see that, as the world is plunged into darkness, Jesus stands among us, inviting us not to fear, but to love.
- "A Radical Act" – Br. David Vryhof
By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus does not diminish his authority. Rather, he shows them a new way of exercising authority, a new way of being with others that is characterized by humility, compassion and loving service. Br. David Vryhof invites us, and the Church, to follow in these radical footsteps.
- "Joining the Dance" – Br. Nicholas Bartoli
The foot washing ritual of Maundy Thursday invites us, as sacraments do, to be emptied of everything except the truth of our identity in Christ.
- "Feet First" – Br. Luke Ditewig
The foot washing reminds us that love is always vulnerable: emotionally exposing, risky and essential for living well.
- "Maundy Thursday Remembrance" – Br. Curtis Almquist
Take what is cut off, broken, lost, detached from your own life, and allow it on this holy night to be reattached, reconnected, remembered.
- "Love Is His Meaning" – Br. James Koester
Everywhere we look, everything we taste, everything we feel, everything we hear, everything we smell tonight is a reminder that God loves us.
- "The Scandal of Service" – Br. James Koester
When we are prepared to fall on our knees before another in acts of humility and service, we too have the opportunity to change the world.
- "Called to Serve" – Br. David Vryhof
As Jesus reveals his true vocation, we learn that we are all called to serve.
A musical selection from this year’s Holy Week liturgies.
- Psalm 40
- “Christ became obedient”
- The Passion Gospel
- Plainsong Anthems sung by the Schola
- A collection of Hymns sung by the Schola
Tonight we are remembering the words and example of Jesus at his last. What we do with the water basin for washing feet and at the altar for receiving the bread and wine, we do “in remembrance” of Christ (1). The Greek sense of this word “remember” is not so much to jog the memory, like tying a string to our finger so we don’t forget what Jesus said. No, it’s a much more profound remembering. It’s to remember like a surgeon “re-members,” when a surgeon re-attaches and sutures some membrane of the body that has been severed. It’s to take something that otherwise would be cut off, broken, lost, detached from our own life, in our relationship with God, to be reattached, reconnected, remembered. To re-member or be remembered in this way is to quite literally get in touch with Jesus, and at the deepest possible level.
Click on the links below to listen to audio selections from Maundy Thursday:
To view photos from Maundy Thursday 2012 at the Monastery click here.
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgies of the so-called Triduum (from the Latin meaning ‘three days’) are in actuality one liturgy beginning with the Maundy Thursday eucharist and foot washing, continuing on Good Friday with the veneration of the cross and communion from bread and wine consecrated on Thursday, and culminating with the renewal of our baptismal vows and the first eucharist of the resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter. Once we commence with worship on Maundy Thursday, we are not formally dismissed until Easter Day. The liturgy of Maundy Thursday commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks. The word ‘maundy’ is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet. In our re-enactment and remembrance of that event, the Superior washes the feet of members of the community, who in turn wash the feet of other community members, who in turn wash the feet of the gathered congregation, who in turn wash the feet of one another. At the conclusion of our eucharistic feast, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. Consecrated bread and wine will be removed to the Lady Chapel, and the brothers will keep watch through the night. Any and all are welcome to join us, for as long or as little time as is possible. It is a solemn, sober, and somber night – for we know what the first disciples did not: that Jesus will soon be arrested, tried unjustly, and put to death. Accordingly the church is quietly stripped of all adornment, and the organ and all the bells of the monastery are silenced until the Great Vigil of Easter.