It’s easy to be puzzled by the name. The first of the three sacred days of the Triduum, leading up to the Feast of Resurrection, is called Maundy Thursday. As a child I always wondered why we were calling it Monday Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word maundatum, meaning commandment. The reading for the day is Jesus at the table with his friends, giving them a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Rituals on this night include foot washing as well as sharing the Eucharist, two ways in which bodies confer sacred worth upon each other in acts of mutual servant-hood.
Leadership in our day is sadly lacking in the category of servant-hood. In this nation and others, it seems that might makes right. Information is bent to serve the wills of those in highest offices of power. Wealth is regarded as synonymous with worth. Violence is met with more violence.
Into this cultural setting comes Holy Week, 2017. Care and caution must be used when stewarding the stories of this sacred time, since a violent act of crucifixion lies at the heart of this narrative. I believe that if we begin with Maundy Thursday, hearing and embodying its command to love, we can understand the cross as it is: not a tragedy, but the depths to which God goes in affirmation of nonviolent, revolutionary love.
Not too long ago, people would gather in churches on Good Friday and hear the Passion according to John. Having been washed in a story pitting “the Jews” against Jesus, these Christians would leave worship and immediately go and abuse their Jewish neighbors, thinking of them as killers of the Messiah. Not only is this an erroneous way of reading John’s Gospel, it is disobedience to the love shown through Christ on the cross. It is a dark part of Christian history we need to both address and repudiate. Part of working on this and other ways our Christian practice has been bent by sinful allegiance to state or race is to engage better rituals and better practices. I think the narrative and rituals of Maundy Thursday can help.
Warm water over tired feet. Open hands filled with bread. Lips tasting good wine. Songs bearing the community’s pain. Prayers breaking into lament as well as joy. Christians, let this be our entry into our holy days. Let us renounce the ways we glorify might and injure our neighbors. Let us renew our faith in the Messiah who showed his lordship by becoming low, serving the least and loving all.