Thursday 1 April 2021
(Steve Hamer - Diocesan Reader)
Based on Readings here
When the ministry rota was drawn up last December, we had had six months free of the Coronavirus and it was not expected to return to our island. The rota takes into account the type of service, followed by who will available to lead, who will preach, who’ll do the intercessions (prayers) and, if communion, who will preside (clergy) and who will deacon, etc. As you might imagine, nothing just happens – there’s a plan being followed and preparation. The choice of Bible readings can vary depending on what service is held.
But – since December we’ve had two ‘Lockdowns’ and the church has been closed.
It had been hoped that we could have met in church tonight, but that is not possible,
thus for the second year running we’ve had no Maundy Thursday service – nor Good Friday meditation and even Easter Day itself. This isn’t a long reflection going deeply into a specific passage of scripture, but a collection of thoughts about an event that we remember on this day. Events of 2000 years ago that still have significant impact on us today.
As we know today is called Maundy Thursday, and there are various suggestions behind the name, but the most accepted is it being derived from a Latin word for "command," and refers to Jesus' commandment to the disciples to:
"Love one another as I have loved you."
It is perhaps the day we remember the service of Christ in washing his disciples' feet.
The day we remember that we are not alone, but together, serving each other and God.
A few years ago Jeanette and I were privileged to be in Westminster Abbey at a Maundy Thursday service. At that service the Queen recognised those from the island that had given exemplary service to the church and their community. One of the recipients was none other than our Dorothy – Mrs Dorothy Boyde. Her name wasn’t drawn out of a hat, but carefully selected and the Bishop then passed her name forward to the Queen.
It isn’t a civil award like an OBE or whatever, but is directly linked to the church,
where Her Majesty is the Defender of the Faith. The specially minted money Dorothy has in a colourful cloth purse is of course precious to her and in time her son Bob will appreciate even more its significance and why his mum was given it. If you wonder what it looks like, the Diocese was given a set and the cloth purse and coins displayed in the Cathedral Treasury at the west end (back) of the building.
As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, they might well have been puzzled at what he was doing. The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear. A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests,
or even serve the guests by washing their feet.
This is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; I Samuel 25:41; et al.), as well as other religious and historical documents.
A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to allow the guest to wash his feet or have servants do it. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn. I Samuel 25:41 is the first Bible passage where an honoured person offers to wash feet as a sign of humility. The Bible records washing of the saint's feet being practised by the primitive church - such as in I Timothy 5:10.
As I mentioned earlier, in John 13: 34 is the explanation by Jesus as to why he did it.
He says this -
'A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.'
He cared deeply for them and was taking on the role of a servant. Normally, we would have held a Holy Communion service on Maundy Thursday and the following words of scripture would have been heard as the bread and the wine is consecrated.
"The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."
As we are only too well aware, we are unable to share communion together as Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. We are all welcome and equal before the Lord’s Table – kneeling or standing at the rail is a great leveller, whether royalty or servant, man or woman, rich or poor. We must try and stay focussed – to forget the worries of the world around us.
In James 4:8 it says
"Get close to God and he will get close to you."
A few years ago I attended a 3-day conference in Hertfordshire which always ended with a communion service. Just as the service was due to start, it was realised that they had forgotten the Communion Service books. The two leading were a Bishop and a very learned clergyman, and what followed was something that I remember very clearly to this day. They reached for two Bibles and standing at either end of the table set up for communion, read alternately the whole communion service taking the components of the service straight out of scripture. At times we forget just how much of our services are lifted straight out of Bible. In the Common Prayer Book (BCP) especially,
the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services are very much passages of scripture.
There is a lovely hymn by Graham Kendrick – the Servant King [aka From Heaven you came, helpless babe], and is very suited to this Thursday evening and the agony of Good Friday. Verse two mentions what happened after the washing of feet and the Passover meal. It says:-
There in the garden of tears,
My heavy load He chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will but Yours,’ He said.
The chorus goes like this –
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him,
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King.
The Garden of Gethsemane is still there with its twisted old olive trees.
Situated in the bottom of the Kidron Valley with steeply rising slopes, on one side it looks up to the Mount of Olives and on the other side up to the eastern walls of Temple Mount and the Golden Gate. According to Jewish tradition, the Shekinah glory of God used to appear through this eastern gate and will appear again when the Anointed One (Messiah) comes (Ezekiel 44:1–3).
It is believed that Jesus, riding on a donkey, passed through this gate on Palm Sunday,
in fulfilment of the Jewish prophecy concerning the Messiah.
The garden where Jesus went to pray would have been dark.
A church built on the site is the magnificent ‘All Nations’ – inside it is dark other than a little light through the small blue glass windows. Visitors rarely speak but kneel at the chancel rail. The muted paintings capture the atmosphere of that evening over 2,000 years ago which was to be Jesus’s last day on Earth.
The Bible records in Matthew 26:40 that Jesus fell facedown and prayed -
"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Then Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping.
“Were you not able to keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.
Jesus had asked them to watch and pray, but recognised that
"the spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
The disciples who were with Jesus had fallen asleep -
would we have done anything different ?
But maybe this is also a message to today’s Church – to watch and pray.
Watch for and pray against the subtle attacks of the enemy.
Tonight we would have normally ended the service by removing everything off the communion table and chancel into the vestry – commonly referred to as ‘stripping the altar’.
We would have left church in silence with maybe a final glance at the empty table and sanctuary. Maybe the presence of God no longer felt around his table.
But we know, what the disciples in Gethsemane didn’t know,
is what would happen in three days’ time.
Easter Day is when all four gospels tell how Mary Magdalene, whether alone or accompanied by other women, came to the tomb on the first day of the week following the crucifixion of Jesus and found the body gone.
Jesus had risen!
So, on Sunday, let us rejoice in Easter again.
Had there been no empty tomb, the Christian faith would have long disappeared.
Maybe we can’t worship together in our churches and sing aloud that glorious hymn
‘Jesus Christ is risen today – Hallelujah !
But we can rejoice in other ways.
Those of us with internet can participate by Zoom in a celebration service organised by the Cathedral at 10.30am or watch a live-stream Eucharist service from there at 6pm.
Manx Radio is doing a reflection at 9.30am.
But, with or without the internet,
we can reflect on the day and the wonder and joy of the woman at the empty tomb.