Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a prominent 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 which surrounds us. That was a radical statement to make, but what was even more shocking and unexpected was his insistence that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight’s liturgy, I think, can help us 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 his waist, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. Tonight, the King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples.
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]:
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.
"Jesus has stooped, insisting that he be allowed to wash our feet. What force compels the God of the universe to do such things? Longing. Jesus has moved heaven and earth out of the profound longing of God’s heart to be reunited with us. To serve us in great humility. Today we are called to channel our longing to the love of God and to one another." – Br. Todd Blackham
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.
Take up these symbols of the new life: towel and basin and water. Let them be for you a sign of your love for him and your gratitude for all that he has done for you. Let them be for you a pledge of your commitment to serve – not out of duty, but out of love; not to obtain a reward, but to imitate the One who freely and willingly laid down his life for you. Let them be for you a reminder of your true vocation.
– Br. David Vryhof
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Video not displaying? Click here to view: https://youtu.be/qKXQZi-Nf3E
Question for Reflection:
Will you ask God to reveal to you something new this Maundy Thursday?