I know Holy Week begins before Maundy Thursday but I have always felt that Maundy Thursday was special, even before I myself was a priest. The Chrism Mass starts the journey when along with other priests I gathered at the Cathedral to renew my ordination vows; once again we were reminded that we can only carry out our tasks and calling with God’s help, that we are his servants and that like Christ we are here to serve.
Back to EK and the evening services. As priests we are indeed servants and I have always found the washing of feet both moving and strengthening. I remember introducing it at St Mark’s and a number of people saying they would like to have their feet washed but they were embarrassed about them. To us, or to me at least, feet are beautiful at such a time, pouring water over them and delicately washing them as if they are a precious object, gently drying them, not rubbing and scrubbing, I always end up recalling not only Jesus’ events on that first Maundy Thursday but also St Paul’s words when he told us how important all parts of the body where and that none were more precious or important than an other. All year we serve a congregation, on that night washing feet becomes like how the catechism describes a sacrament, and outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible act. Much of what we do week in and week out for various members of our congregations goes unseen, yet on that night all can see that we strive to be servants to them even if we sometimes fail.
Jesus’ command to love one another as He loved us resounded not only in the readings but silently around the building as the Last Supper was recalled in the Eucharistic prayer. Gathered together we were more than united in love for God but also for one another and for the countless other Christians around the world recalling the events of the Last Supper, which rather than being an end, as the name suggests, was a glorious beginning to a feast which unites all people under the banner of God’s sacrificial love for us.
I always have a sense of foreboding when stripping the altar, it is like peeling back the layers of our life’s to see what is really there, is our worship and faith just skin deep once the finery has been removed what is left, when there is nothing external to draw our eyes what can we see of ourselves? Can we stay and watch or is the sight now before us one which does not excite and ignite, do we see nothing and want to join with the disciples in ‘taking their rest’ or do we stay and watch, pray and meditate?
Finally everyone drifts away; the church is left dark and empty reluctance I blow it out the last candle. Like the washing of the feet that final act as I leave the church on Maundy Thursday evening becomes like a sacrament, a visible sign that we leave Jesus alone, that we too have abandoned him, that we too have betrayed him and left him too his fate.
Good Friday here at St Mark’s always seems to start by jumping forward in time, when the children gather to make the Easter garden before their own service of devotion and the story of Good Friday. Foraging in the grounds of twigs to make the crosses, stones to build the tomb, plants to make the garden and gravel to make a path. As the children search and build they recall the story. Grass for the green hill, but was it green? ‘Wouldn’t it have been rocky and brown?’ one asked. This year we had ‘S’ and ‘C’ trying to lift up big wooden pews as they recalled Jesus’ journey to Golgotha, afterwards I thought I should have also got some others to sit on them too, showing how Jesus not only carried the cross but our sins – will have to try and remember than for another time. The garden made, the hymns sung, the events recalled, the journey lived, the children headed home while some of the adults waited to be joined by others in anticipation for the Stations of the Cross.
This year the stations were somewhat different, usually there is an over whelming sense of quietness even as we sing, but this year the builders were in and despite them promising to be quiet for the service we heard their drilling and banging and chattering. However it made me think, yes there were those who stood along the road and watched and wept and prayed for Jesus, but also there would have been those in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday who were going about their business, preparing for the Passover, cleaning the house, greeting their guests. As 3 o’clock arrived and we prayed those words from the cross of Jesus ‘It is finished.’ I was more conscious than ever that our task is far from finished, that for many that darkness that fell is still there even if they are unaware of it.
Easter Sunday was glorious the Pascal candle shone forth proclaiming Christ is Risen, Alleluia! The lilies trumpeted our own hope of resurrection for ourselves and for those who have gone before us. We remember our own journey from death to life in our Baptism and renewed our vows. We recalled how the women had brought spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus, doing what they thought would be the last anyone could do for him, only to find he wasn’t there. The question was what had we brought? Had we come empty handed, had we decided there was nothing more we could do for Jesus? Or had we remembered the things we had sung about at his birth and that not knowing what we could bring him, what we could and should bring him was our hearts?
This year instead of hunting for Easter Eggs, the children had to find the Easter angel, once they had found it they were rewarded with the good news that they could have an Easter Egg and reminded that they too had received the commission to spread the Good News the angel brought that day the news that Christ wasn’t dead that He had risen. When we find what we are searching for it doesn’t mean it is the end, we still have rewards and joys ahead.
As the Easter season continues may we all see Christ afresh in the breaking of bread, find comfort when he welcomes us like he did the weary fishermen, and have any doubts cast aside as Thomas’ were.