Friday, April 06, 2007

Maundy Thursday

Activity in the blogosphere has been relatively slow this week. I suppose we are all entering into the activities and contemplations that Holy Week evoke and require. And that is as it should be.

I want to talk about my experience of this Maundy Thursday.

For the first time in anybody's recollection, our parish is holding services every day of this Holy Week. Usually, we didn't do anything on Monday through Wednesday, but just picked up on Thursday with a minimal service.

However, we're in an "interim period," and this week the interim rector is doing some different things. Like tonight. We not only observed Maundy Thursday, but the liturgy included (for the first time in anyone's recollection) foot-washing and concluded with the stripping of the altar. A larger-than-anticipated group assembled. And that's good.

Only four brave souls participated in the foot-washing. I was not among them. I have "foot issues." Not that there's anything wrong with them; I just don't like to show them. Weird. I know.

The stripping of the altar was simple and powerful. The only other time I had seen this, it had been done ceremonially, accompanied by readings as each group was removed (e.g., a reading for removal of the candles, one for removal of the paraments, etc.). Ours was simpler. At the end of the recessional hymn, all lights went out except the ones above the altar. Altar guild members simply, quietly, and efficiently removed everything. Some folks remained standing throughout. Some knelt as soon as it began. Some who had been standing moved to their knees in the course of it -- not that kind of awkward move where you realize you're in the "wrong" position, but the natural one that says "this is a time for me to be on my knees." Several remained kneeling, praying after the last light was turned off.

All this reminds me how thankful I am for our liturgy as Episcopalians. These silent actions spoke volumes of how our lives, our souls would be impoverished if not for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The bleakness of the chancel. The bleakness of a life without that hope. Liturgy as poetry.

Here's a confession: All my life I have known the Bible verse "God so loved the world . . ." and I have believed it. I have believed God loves the world, cares about humanity. It's just that I have never been able to personalize it. I've never been able to believe that God loves me … me … personally … specifically.

But something weird happened tonight as I heard the Gospel reading from John – how Jesus "loved them to the end" and how he washed their feet. I keep trying to wrap my mind around this: God in the form of Jesus adopted the role of the lowest servant, washing the disciples' feet as a way of saying "I love you." And maybe he was also saying "There is no part of yourself that you cannot share with me." As I heard those words, the Spirit said something new to me about how God really does love us – each of us, individually. OK, not a novel thought to most folks, but it was a new one to me: not just that God loved humanity which God had created – but that God delighted (and may yet delight) in each of us. God may even care about me . . . personally, individually. A stunning thought.

Even as I try to wrap my head and heart around that thought, I'm aware that we move into the Passion tomorrow. We will see God in Jesus executed, hanging on a cross. And why? With God's ultimate power, Jesus could have done some miracle to escape that pain. He had done even greater miracles. Heck! he had raised Lazarus from the dead! Wriggling free of the cross would have been easy by comparison. But something about his love for us … even for me? … kept him from doing so.

I'm reading some good theological reflections on these matters. They speak to my head, and my head will soon engage these matters. But tonight I'm just overwhelmed that the creator of the universe would wash his disciples' feet, would love them, and would die an agonizing death of crucifixion to show that love. I do not understand these mysteries. I'm no theologian, and I can't parse out the various atonement theories. But I am grateful that our liturgy gives me another season to experience and live through them – grateful for another year in which I can try to comprehend them.

And now . . . on to Good Friday.

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