Maundy Thursday 2020 - Revd Canon Edward Carter
Maundy Thursday 2020 - Revd Canon Edward Carter
I’m seeing Maundy Thursday differently this year.
There are at least three things that lie at the heart of Maundy Thursday. First, the gathering of Jesus with his disciples for what we call the ‘Last Supper’, at which the sacrament of Holy Communion was created. Secondly, the washing by Jesus of his disciples’ feet, in which moment the ‘sacramental’ way of life, of service and love, was most fully revealed. And thirdly, the hours spent in the Garden of Gethsemane – hours of prayer and exhaustion, which ended with the arrest of Jesus by the authorities.
I’m seeing them differently this year, because in fact all of those things are against the law in the UK on Maundy Thursday 2020. They’re illegal for good reason, of course, as we collectively respond to the crisis of the covid-19 virus and seek to protect those who are most vulnerable, including those who serve in our hospitals. But these three things are none-the-less against the law today.
On Palm Sunday I was out for my daily exercise, clearly identifiable as a clergyperson, and I had to fetch my cassock and surplice from the vestry, ready to take two funerals. I was confident that I wasn’t doing anything improper, and I took all precautions. But as I walked home three police officers came the other way. My stomach tightened a notch, and I forced a smile as we passed. They were perfectly friendly, and certainly didn’t ask me what I was doing. Indeed, members of the police need our thanks and prayers as well just at the moment, as they play their part in preventing untimely deaths from the virus. But I had a sudden insight into the emotions of the first Maundy Thursday.
For Jesus to meet with his disciples for a meal would have been against the law this Holy Week in Norwich. Furthermore, to wash a dozen people’s feet would have compounded the crime of ignoring the call to ‘socially isolate’. And then to go out and loiter in a local park for hours; well, the police would be along, for sure, to take action.
I know the parallel is not exact. I fully support the need for this 2020 lockdown in the face of the virus, and the role of the authorities in making sure it happens.
But nevertheless my sudden insight on Palm Sunday was powerful. Jesus was challenging the authorities. He was doing things that should not have been done, according to the powers that be. There must have been a tightness in the stomach for him and his friends. The need to trust God must have been raised to new heights.
We’re so familiar with the events of Maundy Thursday and of Holy Week that I suspect we never normally experience the ‘tightened stomach’ feeling. Perhaps we never really ‘get inside’ the huge challenge that Jesus was making to the authorities and to the world as a whole. I realise now that all too often I’m simply too comfortable and safe to experience the real power of Maundy Thursday.
So I’m seeing Maundy Thursday differently this year.
And I shall be experiencing it differently too. For the first time I can remember I shall not be at a church service – and my memories of Maundy Thursday go right back to when I was a young child helping as a server. I will have to make a new experience.
It would be quite wrong – and illegal of course – to invite a dozen others to supper at the Vicarage. It would compound the crime to wash everyone’s feet without following hygiene advice, before they headed off home again. And to go and spend several hours loitering in Chapelfield Gardens would add a third transgression. I would deserve to be arrested, quite literally. So I won’t be doing any of those things, nor would I want to break the law in these ways. However, just thinking about what Jesus did some 2,000 years ago does suddenly feel a bit more real.
So instead of going to church for the familiar liturgy I shall be at home, trying to pray, trying to remember that my faith really is a matter of life and death, trying to absorb deep within me the true significance of what God does in Christ.
Experiencing Maundy Thursday differently this year will be, I hope and believe, a painful but rich gift from the God who shapes the life of the whole creation, and who longs to shape our lives too.
Now read the following passage carefully and prayerfully (Luke 22.7-62):
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’
He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
A final prayer:
as Jesus opened the door onto a new way of living,
bless us with the gift of life with him.
As our stomachs tighten,
remind us of your presence.
In the face of uncertainty,
teach us of your grace.
When all else fails,
help us still to trust in you.
And as you bless us, may we bless others.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.