Not as the autocorrect facility on my phone would have you believe, MAUNGY Thursday...though listening to some of my colleagues at the Chrism Mass this morning, you might be forgiven for thinking that was a better word to describe the clergy at the start of the great three days of Easter, the climax of our year.
But actually the word is Maundy – from the Latin Mandatum – the root of our “mandate”...for on this night we recall two commandments that Jesus gave us – two instructions to DO THIS.
In both cases, always the Master teacher, he did not simply tell us what to do...he showed us.
First we have the new commandment illustrated in living parable as he knelt at the feet of his friends
“Love one another as I have loved you”
We so struggle with this...
Even the illustration is beyond us.
Many read of washing the disciples feet who think themselves above cleaning another's boots wrote Herbert Kelly, who founded the Society of the Sacred Mission...and I suspect that this is often the case.
We do our acts of service self consciously, - perhaps thinking privately “Aren't I doing well” when of course as long as we're focussed on ourselves, there's no point to the action at all.
What Jesus asks us to do is to forget ourselves entirely, as we offer loving service to one another -...for to love as he loves us means emptying ourselves completely, just as he emptied himself in loving obedience.
An act of submission that is nonetheless a challenge – a call to something that is as hard to give as it is to receive.
You'll notice that tonight we have just 2 chairs ready for foot washing – not the 12 that would take us more obviously to the upper room on the night of Christ's Last Supper.
There's a reason for this – I've NEVER yet managed to persuade a full dozen people to have their feet washed.
There are all sorts of reasons for this...self consciousness, for feet aren't often our prettiest feature
A desire to avoid the intimacy of that touch
Perhaps even a measure of pride in our self sufficiency...
I can wash my own feet, thank you very much....and I want to hang on to my dignity as tightly as I can.
But Jesus does this to teach us something important..
That we need one another, that we need to take the risk of vulnerability with one another, to remove the protection of our shoes and the protection that lets us keep our distance from our brothers and sisters – and from him.
In God's family, gathered around his table, there are no senior ranks...no reserved occupations....we are all called to give and to receive loving service.
Does that feel too fearful to contemplate?
Think of Peter – unable to get his head around it at all...resisting at first...but suddenly realising what is being offered and wanting to immerse himself completely in the love that kneels before him.
Truly, this risk of vulnerability is one worth taking.
“A new commandment I give to you.......”
And, once we're clean, why then we can move to the table...
To the place where again and again we obey tonight's second commandment,
the other “Do this” of this most holy night.
We can take the bread and drink the wine here where Jesus is the host, offering himself to us
“Do this in remembrance of me”
Somehow, we find it easier to accept that gift of himself...
Perhaps we do so passively, imagining that it demands little of us
But as we receive the life of God, offered to us in bread and wine, we are transformed...transformed for loving service.
So the 2 commandments of tonight belong together...
Let us pray that as we gather in obedience to them both, we may understand more of the great love that invites us to draw near.