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Maundy Thursday

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. This is embarrassing and awkward. A servant

should be doing this. But even more, Jesus is their teacher and their Lord. Peter

argues with his doing it, but Jesus tells him he must do this so that the disciples

can be close to him.

 

That’s bad enough, but then, Jesus takes bread and blesses and breaks it and

tells them that this is his Body, and that they are to eat it as a remembrance of

him. And then, worst of all, Jesus takes a cup of wine and tells the disciples that

this is his Blood. He asks them to drink it. To really understand how horrifying

this had to be for the disciples, you need to understand that in Jewish law, there

was an absolute prohibition against drinking the blood of any animal. Part of the

act of koshering is to drain all the blood out of an animal so that it is gone when

the meat is eaten. To imagine drinking any blood, let alone the blood of a human

being, was a horrifying, disgusting thought.

 

It reminds me of my mother’s objections to Maundy Thursday. She used to

say, that with all the washing of feet and eating supper and so on, it just wasn’t

spiritual enough for her. What she didn’t understand was that these moments

are the most deeply spiritual of the whole Christian year. First of all, they are

intimate. Mothers wash their children’s feet, lovers may wash one another’s feet.

To wash another person’s feet takes humility and a good deal of love. And to eat

with another person is a personal thing, but to actually feed another person with

one’s own body and blood is a symbol of a profound love, an intimacy that we can

hardly grasp. But that feeding is real, and we will see it in the next two days as

Jesus pours himself out for us in love, as he literally gives his body and blood for

our salvation.

 

And these moments are spiritual because they ARE lived out. I know that a lot

of people say that they are spiritual but not religious. That can mean a variety of

things, but my experience is that often, what people mean by that is that they

like to think about spiritual things and have warm, lovely spiritual feelings, but

that they don’t want to have to live that out with real people, people who are

sometimes difficult or stupid or who hold objectionable opinions. They want

spirituality without any real obligation or accountability. They don’t want to

have to make their spirituality real in the real world. It might mean doing things

for other people that are embarrassing or difficult. It might involve washing

someone’s feet. But, of course, there is no real spirituality unless it is lived out.

That is part of what Jesus is saying. Unless we serve one another, unless we are

willing to pour ourselves out in love for one another, we are not really part of

Christ. The love of Christ is self-sacrificial love and it is always seen in real, physical

ways.

 

If we have any doubt about that, we only have to look at the Cross. Jesus gives his

life for us – not in some sweet, spiritual way, but in physical suffering and death.

The love of God is seen in blood and sweat and tears. It is ugly and frightening.

But it is real. We can never pretend that it is not.

 

We know that the story will not end here, that Easter lies just beyond the tomb.

But the disciples had no idea of that. I find it hard to imagine how the disciples

lived through those next couple of days. To have someone that you loved with all

your heart and on whom you had put all your hope, humiliated and tortured and

killed, must have been a loss almost beyond comprehension. I always find myself

praying for them and for any who suffer that kind of hopeless loss.

 

But the disciples saw what we have seen, that Jesus loved them so much that he

was willing to pour himself out, to empty himself, to give up everything, including

his life, for them. That is what is most spiritual about these days – it is love, love in

thought and word and, most especially deed. It is love that lays itself on the line.

It is love that gladly suffers for the good of another.

 

And in the end, we will know that this love is the strongest force in the universe,

that even death cannot overcome it. But for right now, let us live with the

disciples and with Jesus and know the true spirituality of these days. Let us

remember all those who live with fear and hopelessness, who have lost what they

loved most in the world, and let us pray for the grace to learn how to love, even in

the smallest way, as Jesus did, with our hearts and our minds and our hands and

our feet.

 

Amen.