I find myself, each Maundy Thursday, feeling, well — nostalgic. Yes, I am moved deeply by the invitation to walk alongside Jesus through this most difficult and yet most glorious part of his story and our story together. This day, however, forms an intricate piece of my own story as a person and as a disciple, one of those places where my tale intersects with the story of the Christ in unusual ways.
Let’s go back to the beginning — my own beginning, that is. You see, my parents had a difficult relationship with the idea of church after the death of my brother. My earliest memories of this season were of Maundy Thursday services, because my father wouldn’t join “the other hypocrites” on Easter Sunday (um…his words, not mine) . My Dad had an opinion about everything (just one of the many ways in which I follow in his footsteps) and one of his strong opinions was about “the Christmas-Easter people” at church. I don’t know whether or not he just didn’t like the crowds (they might have interrupted his nap during the service) or if Easter was often too close to his birthday or whether this idea was just a convenient excuse to not attend yet another Sunday service, but that was the rule we lived by. We attended on Maundy Thursday, not on Easter Sunday.
Many years and many congregations later, I found myself as a substitute chorister at a Maundy Thursday service at the Calvary Baptist Church. I eventually joined that community and embraced the idea of identifying as a Baptist. And as each Maundy Thursday rolled around for the next 8 years, I worshiped and wept for Jesus and for my own failings as part of that community. I worked as a musician there, I was baptized (again) there, I served on committees and participated in church governance (a very Baptist thing to do), I was licensed to the Gospel ministry there, I served as a teacher and as a deacon and in any other capacity that was needed.
Tonight, in many churches, there will be a dinner before the members gather at the Table. Tonight, there may be foot washing in response to the command “Do this (John 13:14-17).” Tonight, churches that are not Eucharistic by nature (that are, in fact generally non-Eucharistic in worship), will celebrate and remember as we have been instructed to remember…with the bread and the wine/wine substitute. And they will tell the story again, the story of togetherness and the story of betrayal.
And yet tonight, all that I can think about is the incredible loneliness that there must have been in that room. The disciples were, I am sure, afraid and uncertain and each lost in their lonely thoughts of what might come. Jesus must have felt so alone in the presence of his disciples — they understood but through a glass darkly. There was so much to do, his Father must have seemed so far away in the presence of Peter who would deny him and Judas who would betray him. And yet, he washed their feet. He offered the greatest act of hospitality that could be offered. He said to them, yes, you will deny me, you will fail me day after day, and yet I offer you all the hospitality our God has to offer — because I know that in your daily failure you will continue to try to live the one great commandment that I have left with you: “ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”
What we often miss, however, is the essence of this story: the ultimate and total forgiveness and love that it contains. We often miss the true commandment here. Jesus does not just tell us to remember, he does not tell us to think about him, he does not tell us even to tell his story. He tells us to do this…”For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:15).”
I don’t know about you, but if I look back on the months since the last Maundy Thursday, I have failed at this commandment daily, but I do continue to try — try to love, try to forgive, try to be reconciled, try to do this. And so, even though I join no community in worship tonight, I remember these all important words of confession that are so appropriate today in particular and on most of the days of my oh-so-human life:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.