Maundy Thursday 9th April 2020 Year A
I always find this evening’s readings a bit of a challenge. I am never quite sure how they hold together. Firstly, we have the account of the first Passover as recorded in the Book of Exodus - an account I find harsh if not cruel. Yes, God gives his chosen a way out - avoiding his wroth to be unleashed on the Egyptians but the killing of the first born males of these not chosen, I find to be ghastly. That might have something to do with being a ‘first born male’!
I know why that reading forms part of today’s liturgy - it is meant to foreshadow the death of God’s first born Son. There was a way out for some ‘first borns’ but not others and that beggars the question- ‘Did Jesus have a way out that he chose not to use?’ Tomorrow’s Passion Gospel will tell us that he did but that he did not use it:
“Let your will be done, not mine.”
Jesus gave of himself and that giving is echoed in the gobbits from 1Corinthians and John’s Gospel. Both speak of the Last Supper but in contrasting ways which together show the full extent of Jesus’ self-giving.
In the sharing of bread and wine Jesus institutes the Eucharist as a memorial of his self-giving but not only that. Every time we come to the altar we come to be one with Christ and all the faithful, living and departed, sharing in his once and for all time sacrifice and our ultimate salvation. It is, however, in John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper that we fully grasp the extent to which Jesus was to give of himself for our sake. For me that is summed up in the lines:
“ Jesus … took off his outer robe … and began to wash the disciples feet.”
Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher - in many ways a man of some standing in the community. He was the supper host and as such the most important man there. The outer robes worn by such a man would have proclaimed his status, rather like a roman toga. To take it off and to strip down reduced Jesus in the eyes of his company to the level of a servant or slave.
Slaves had no respectable outer garments and it was they who did the menial jobs in a house such as washing the feet of guests. At the Last Supper it is Jesus who seemingly debases his status to care for his friends. He then dresses again, thus restoring his dignity, and then commands his followers to wash the feet of others! Being dressed again added weight to Jesus’ words, to his commandment. to love one another.
Tonight we see Jesus as servant and teacher, master and slave. His actions tell his followers and us that whoever we are regardless of our status or rank we have a duty to care for others regardless of their status or rank. As Jesus gives of himself so we too are called to give of ourselves. It is the Eucharist that will and can encourage and support us in the our response to the call to discipleship that Jesus gives us to tonight.