Meditation and Reflection

Maundy Thursday: 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.
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).

The day before the Passover, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and Christians have spoken of washing one another’s feet ever since. Jesus did it as an act of humility. The disciples were to do it as an exercise in love and mutual subjection. We don’t do it much now, mainly because we wear shoes and socks and take a daily shower. Christian feet tend to be a lot cleaner in this decontaminated age than they were in dusty Israel in AD33. But our souls are just as sullied.

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 the Easter Eucharist with foot-washing or a modern equivalent:

What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK, spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets of a busy town at night as a street pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you’ll find there especially among young people?

Perhaps not a law, but certainly a new tradition, if that isn’t too oxymoronic, to induce a little humility; dispel perpetual feelings of superiority; test doctrinal infallibility and confront our pride. After all, we do still need to wash our feet, some more than others. And we all need to eat, but the bread and the wine are privileges. Only if we are humble, forgiving and reconciled one to another 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 presume to eat the bread and drink the wine. Funny, isn’t it, how zealous and assiduous we are in demanding 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, greed 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 seen and made known to the world: ‘ one another; as I have loved you..’. 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. To be is to live; to live is to breathe, to persist, to remain in Him. And that doesn’t connote 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. Nor can it be unforgiving if we are to truly live, pray and worship with one another as one body, as He agonisingly entreated in Gethsemane that we should.