Holy Week highlights, part 1: Maundy Thursday

Stations of the Cross - Via DolorosaHoly Week is far too rich for me to properly indwell it during its all-too-short seven days, so I thought I’d share some of my reflections with you, dear readers, to try to re-live and soak up the goodness of this blessed period of time. Let us “treasure up all these things and ponder them” in our hearts.

Maundy Thursday

At the evening church service, my choir sings the gorgeous motet “Christus Factus Est,” taken from Philippians 2, commemorating Jesus’ humble descent from heaven to serve humanity, to the point of washing their filthy feet and washing their sins away by his death.

The foot-washing is one of my favorite Christian rituals because of its concrete physicality. We share a tender time of humbly serving each other and being served. There is an intimacy involved in touching someone’s feet, trying not to recoil at the smell of sweat, cleaning off the grime, gently drying with a towel. Parents wash children’s feet, friends wash friends’ feet, strangers wash strangers’ feet. Hugs and blessings are exchanged afterward.

Sue washes my feet, explaining that she can’t kneel because of her bad knees. I lift my feet up higher so she doesn’t have to bend, and I appreciate her willingness to serve me even with her physical limitations. Next, I wash Pastor Carolyn’s feet–slowly, gently, trying to give the simple touch of my fingers as a gift, channeling blessings through my hands.

After we take communion, the acolytes strip the altar of all its finery–no embroidered vestments, no flowers, no candles. Pastor Beverly explains the multi-layered symbolism of this practice–we are commemorating that Jesus is led out to die, stripped of His clothing and His dignity, and His sheep scatter as their Shepherd is struck.

The altar is reduced from a festive banquet table to naked gray rock, reminding me of Narnia’s stone table. The sanctuary is stark and bare. There is no recessional hymn or postlude. We shuffle out in silence.

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