Maundy Thursday: love, humility, forgiveness, reconciliation
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.Today we remember that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, by which they were to symbolise their love for one another by mutual subjection and humility. And then He ate bread and drank wine for the last time. Most Christians commemorate the Last Supper all year round, but we witness the foot-washing only once a year, and rarely is it physically re-enacted. Perhaps we should precede every celebration of the Eucharist with foot-washing or a modern equivalent; a little induced humility to dispel superiority, test doctrinal infallibility and confront our pride.
And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:1-15).
After all, we still all need to wash our feet, though today they tend to be more odorous than begrimed from the desert dust. And we all need to eat, but the bread and the wine are privileges. Only if we are humble, forgiving and reconciled may we dine with Him; only when everything else fades into oblivion can we feed on Him.
But it never does, does it? Life is messy, you see. We intone the liturgy and pray the Lord's Prayer - "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". But we have not forgiven because the grievance still eats into our soul. There is bitterness, resentment, malice, even hatred. And yet we eat the bread and drink the wine. Funny, isn't it, how restless and eager we are to demand the excommunication of our brothers and sisters for their notorious sexual sin, while we take the bread and drink the cup with hearts of hate, hostility and malevolence.
If we are to feed on Him, we must be humble and love one another. It is the fruit of the Spirit by which we might be made known to the world. If God can empty Himself to become man, then we can empty ourselves of self and fulfil the human vocation to be in the image of God. And that doesn't entail always being kind, nice, liked or acting the amiable doormat: loving one another can be a prickly, argumentative and disapproving process. But it is never proud, conceited, ostentatious, haughty, sadistic or spiteful. And nor can it be unforgiving if we are to live, pray and worship with one another as one body, as He agonisingly entreated in Gethsemane.