last supper jesus alone disciples isolation coronavirus maundy thursday
Meditation and Reflection

Maundy Thursday: the invisible and the distant

This 13th contribution comes courtesy of Alison Bailey Castellina MA (Oxon), who founded the forerunner of The Tymes Trust national charity for children with ME, and led the national Christian support group for ME.


This Last Supper, with seven disciples presumably ‘working from home’ (and five more without wifi) reminds me that if one is a Christian, the key relationship in one’s life is not ‘up front and close’. It is not even halfway personal. It is a very close relationship with A Distant Other.

Many of us are now in the realm of halfway normal relationships, in this lockdown. How weird it is seeing the enlarged head of your colleague at 9am on your laptop as if they were visiting you, with a secure shatterproof screen between you, in prison. What makes it weirder is spouting jargon at your own kitchen table while your other half walks through the screen image still in their pyjamas.

Personally, I find the experience of seeing right into my colleagues’ homes not exactly comfortable. It feels like an intrusion. One get transfixed in meetings by their ceiling roses and light fittings or how many bookcases they have, while half-seeing a tiny image of oneself looking not as one would like in the bottom corner. It is all very distracting, even though one has to be grateful for small mercies (ie seeing anyone at all). One also gets bored with one’s own background, which one can see all the time. So after a week, one tends to start shifting around one’s smallish place, rearranging the background on a Sunday night. One becomes very aware of bookshelves and books on show. People start to be weighed not by their income but by their library, artistic taste, portraits and online backgrounds.

Returning to the Invisible, the Disciples were suddenly socially distanced by Christ at the Ascension. Once, they leaned on His shoulder and ate what He passed to them. Now He had gone, far, far away, albeit to prepare a room for them. However, like videoconferencing, He insisted He continued to be with them, in the same room, even though He lived and reigned in another dimension.

The ‘reference points’ of many have vanished in the current lockdown. London, which one Californian producer once told me is “The centre of the Universe”, is a huge anchor for those who succeed in it. Yet that fount of countless livelihoods is now without life, or even footfall. It is not even the world city of the living dead. Perhaps for the first time in history, its myriad streets have lost their meaning.

People mostly reference against what is visible, held together by fine buildings , including churches. What happens when they close and one can no longer access the roles and beauties they richly offer, or the ceremonies which hold up a faith based on outward things? What happens when visible reference points all crumble at once?

This is why having invisible reference points such as the Bible and ‘an Invisible Friend’ (previously so derided, but no longer) is the best way, because the visible tends to crumble, anyway. As to whether the Risen Christ is distant or near, like online friends, He can be both – but only if one actively clicks ‘Invite’.