Sir Patrick Stewart, one of England’s leading Shakespearian actors, recently reprised his role as Jean Luc Picard for CBS’s lucrative Star Trek franchise. Admiral Picard is universally regarded as amongst the most famous science fiction cinematic characters of all time, perfectly blending leadership qualities of unrelenting ethical character with decisive, courageous command presence. After thoughtful consideration of his subordinates’ recommendations, he crisply responds “Make it so” to the one he accepts, and they do!
Maundy is a corrupted abbreviation of the Latin mandatum, to command, compel, or literally to mandate. In other words, this is the day Jesus said Make it so! (Alternative theories postulate the day is named after the bags of alms money the King of England distributed to the poor before attending mass this day, but since I’m not a big monarchist, I’m sticking to my Jesuit High School Latin roots) What was Jesus mandating you ask? John 13:34, the Johannine memory of the Last Supper, contains a shocking memory omitted from Matthew, Mark and Luke: Jesus serving his friends as the lowest, youngest house servant as he takes pitcher, basin and towel to wash their feet as Mary earlier washed his. When completed, he tells his astonished students, A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Make it so! New and commandment appear in scripture over 1100 times in total…and together like this, only four times, and all from the Johannine church. Wow. Maundy Thursday is not about toes, toe jam, pitchers, basins, or some ascetically acrobatic trick to come close to God. At taproot, this day in the Great Week is about love. We are loved that much by God, and we are supposed to deploy God’s overwhelming love to each other. Staying very close to Jesus now as we enter the Triduum means confronting a spectacular primer in love.
This passionate desire to stay close to Jesus drove Egeria and her fellow Jerusalemite pilgrims to begin today’s worship at first cock-crow and, excepting two very brief moments to steal a light meal for endurance, stay assembled in worship, prayer, singing and devotion continuously for 24 hours. The archdeacon announced, “Let us meet tonight at 7 PM in the church (at the summit of Mount Olivet), there is a great effort ahead of us tonight!” They read aloud the entire passion narrative of the Last Supper, then hiked to the Garden of Gethsemane with candles to watch there with Jesus. They are so exhausted by then she records“by the time (the stories of Jesus’ arrest) has been read everyone is groaning and lamenting and weeping so loudly that people across the city can hear it all!” Bishop Cyril gave them an encouraging speech and dismissed them all just before sunrise on Good Friday. They would not be dissembled long.
Why?! Why wash feet?! Why keep such a grueling overnight vigil, and remember, many were still fasting from the Saturday before! Why groan and weep?! Have you ever washed the feet or touched the feet of someone you deeply love? Have you ever stayed up all night in the bloom of romance and just didn’t care how tired you were? Have you ever wept for love? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you know the essence of Maundy Thursday already! It’s a new commandment to love. Make it so!
- Today is one of those “take it out of your head” kinda days for Christians. Go wash someone’s feet with whom you are sheltered. Read the passion narrative accounts from any of the gospels by candlelight. Sing a favorite hymn or Christian song, out loud, right where you are.
- Join ECOT for our wonderful at-home Maundy Thursday activities, all posted on our website here. Strip and wash your table, just like we do our altar to conclude our Maundy worship.
- Take an hour on the overnight prayer vigil (like half of us are up anyway!) and pray, meditate and reflect. When were you most loved, most held, most comforted?! Be with Jesus tonight.