Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday in Holy Week -- A Mandate

From the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect for Maundy Thursday:
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I first became aware of the word "Collect", it had a strange ring to it.  But simply put, a "Collect" is simply a prayer meant to gather the intentions of of the people and the focus of the worship into a succinct prayer.  Anglican Collects seem to follow a certain meter and have been a part of historic Anglican since the time of Archbishop Cramner.  Today's apropos prayer calls to mind  the Sacrament that was first instituted over two milennia this evening.

*From the Gospel of Saint John:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it 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 had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me."  Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"  Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean."  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. ... When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, 'Where I am going you cannot come.'  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:1-17, 31-35 (ESV)
(*NOTE: The ACNA Lectionary prescribed Matt 26:1-to 5, 14-25)

Perhaps its our aversion to the baring our feet in in church to be washed by a nodding acquaintance that drives many to place the focus of Maundy Thursday on the institution of the Eucharist rather than the call to the humility of washing a possible stranger's feet. I inwardly cringe at the thought of someone being confronted by my gnarly, middle-aged dogs.  But its at this moment that I'm reminded that it was the composer and conductor of the Aria of Creation who stripped down to his underwear to wash the dirty fallen feet of his Apostles, feet he conceived in Eternity past.

I continue to be arrested by this moment. The Christ is mere hours away from enduring the most hellish ordeal ever endured by one clothed in human flesh. The spotless Passover lamb would soon have the sins of the vilest offenders laid upon his shoulders.  It's weight may have felt like the shattering blow from a pile driver. It's at moments of reflection, such as now, my careless sins and betrayals become a foul, wretched stench in my own nostrils.

In this unfolding moment. Christ, in demonstrating this love that loves someone to the end, strips down to his inner garments and girds himself with a towel in preparation to wash the feet of his disciples. Try to imagine a dinner where the host suddenly strips down to his boxers and tee-shirt; it would be an awkward moment at the very least. The Christ of God is now seen as the servant of all; transformed from High King of Heaven to lowly house slave. All were shocked, but Peter seems to have been scandalized as seen in his reaction. Jesus doesn't mince words; without this "washing" St. Peter would have no share in the Kingdom. Peter suddenly gets it, and all but asks for a bath.

For a visual learner, this moment in the Gospel packs a powerful punch. It teaches volumes about the Kingdom and how it will unfold. It shows us that the Kingdom looks far more like a tiny sun-baked Albanian nun cradling the dying than a slick, polished preacher trying to sell you your best life now. Its self-emptying rather than self-aggrandizing. Our Lord has no need or use for strutting popinjays who seem to pervade the vast spiritual and cultural wasteland. The "No Fear" Crowd does little more than stir His holy wrath. He saw all of these traits in His onetime anointed cherub, and threw both him and his company of fallen angels down from Heaven. No, He seeks something quite to the contrary. 

Consider on this Maundy Thursday... Our Lord seeks those who've grasped the concept that in the greater scheme of things, they're truly of no account. They've got nothing to bring to the table. These are the ones whom the Master can fill with His power, and may well use them mightily in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in both word and action.







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