Maundy Thursday via Zoom

So we are still meeting and being community and sharing bread and wine together via Zoom! I haven’t posted all we’ve done – but everything has blessed and uplifted us. The following is a meditation I wrote for Maundy Thursday:

Maundy Thursday in lockdown 2020 – A meditation.

That last week it had been like everything intensified. I think I’d trace it back to the raising of Lazarus from death. There are actually no words to describe how we all felt when Jesus, with tears streaming down his face, called into the tomb ‘Lazarus, Come out!’ But that was nothing compared to how we felt when Lazarus appeared, on his own two feet… I know of so many who were convinced then of Jesus being the ‘real deal’ – though no-one really knew what that really meant yet and all had their own terms for it. All I know is that people started to flock to him and to be far more vocal than ever before. I think that was what led to the extraordinary welcome when he entered Jerusalem a few days later…
But just before that, Jesus stayed with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha as he often did when he was down south. They were amongst Jesus’s closest friends so he could always relax with them; it was a real home for him. It was his last sabbath, not that we knew that then, and when we were about to pass around the spice box, wishing upon each other the sweet fragrance of the sabbath to stay with us through the coming week, Mary did her own extraordinary thing. She brought out a jar of the most beautifully scented aromatic oil and she broke the seal right over Jesus’s head and poured it out. It dripped down his face and beard and there was a commotion – laughter but also a disquiet – because we knew something special was being done – but we didn’t know what. And she massaged the oil into his feet, between his toes. And the aroma of that oil filled not only the house but lasted on Jesus all through the next week. It followed him wherever he went… The sweetness of Jesus amongst us…
(Take a scented handcream, perfume or aftershave and put some onto your hands / face)
And I can’t help but wonder if that night didn’t influence Jesus for that following Thursday night – our Passover night. Our last supper with him. He’d loved it, you see. He couldn’t get over what she’d done for him – he ‘got it’- he knew everything it symbolised, what she had meant by it and what she couldn’t yet understand herself. More than anything though, I think it was the intimacy, the love that really touched him.
So, on that Thursday evening, Jesus did something he’d never done before. He washed our feet. I think he wanted to do something similar for us. Of course, Peter voiced what we were all thinking – it wasn’t seemly! Masters and Rabbis don’t wash feet! And knowing what we know now, the thought of him kneeling at our feet – well, it’s still is hard to take. But Jesus said we had to let him serve us if we were to serve him and I know that none of us who were there can get out of our heads the clear message that following him is about love. It’s all about love.
Well we all sat down for the meal. There were so many of us – yes the Twelve, as we’d become known, but all the other core team members – all the Marys (!) Joanna, Salome, John Mark’s mother – whose house it was – and young John Mark, wide-eyed, taking it all in, a little over-excited, as well as Cleopas and his wife… Too many to mention – it was heaving, just as a Passover celebration should be.
I think we had all got excited by the strengthening support of the crowds and at the same time we were unsettled by the events at the Temple and the equally growing tensions with the authorities. Jesus seemed preoccupied that night and whilst we went through the usual rituals at the meal and had a feast to rival any other Passover meal in Jerusalem, I think we all took furtive glances at Jesus during the evening, wondering what was going through his mind. He seemed to be making an effort to be present to us, whilst actually being quite subdued, troubled…
Apart from being a feast, a Passover meal is full of familiar words, songs, actions and symbolic rituals. For those of you who may not know, we only eat unleavened bread. Yeast and leavening agents of any kind are seen as symbolising pride and sin. We try to rid ourselves of these things as we clean out our houses of every crumb and forego normal breads for the week. Of course, its also because we are remembering our ancestors fleeing Egypt at the time of the Exodus, when they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. They were ‘with bread’ – with God as their companion on the journey. Bread is hugely symbolic for us…
So the time came for Jesus to take the bread that we call ‘the Isaac’ and broke it. That’s all part of what we do every Passover – we remember the one who was taken by his father to be sacrificed. The bread is broken in two and we hide the other half – the afikomen. The kids love the game of trying to find it and being the one to get the prize. John Mark was determined that this would be his year, if I remember rightly! Afikomen means ‘afters’ or ‘that which is to come’. That’s taken on a whole new meaning for us since that night. As Jesus broke the bread he looked intently at us, blessed it with the usual words and then said, ‘This is my body, broken for you. I want you to remember me when you do this in the future’. So we ate it in a confused silence. None of us dared ask what he meant.

Break the bread. Remember –the without-sin bread, the bread of sacrifice, reminding us of God’s companionship in these difficult times, Jesus’s body broken for you…

Now in the Passover meal there are four cups of wine. Each helps us remember the four-fold promise of God to Moses: The first is ‘I will bring you out’ which we call the cup of deliverance. The second is ‘I will deliver you from slavery’ – the cup of freedom. But it was as Jesus was pouring out the third cup that he said something new. This promise is, ‘I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power’ and we call it the cup of redemption or the cup of thanksgiving. Instead of the usual words, Jesus said, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant written in my blood. It’s my blood poured out for you. Drink it and remember me when you do’. Not the blood of the sacrificial lamb at the time of Moses – his blood… To be honest we didn’t have a clue then what he meant. We didn’t much like those words, there was a sadness, no more than a sadness, there was a sense of dread… something was happening, something was coming and we were out of our depth. He wouldn’t drink the cup of consummation – he said something about having to wait for that…

Take the wine. It speaks of our redemption. It marks a new covenant – a new relationship with God, bought, in some mysterious way, with the sacrificial blood of Christ. The blood of Christ…

And Jesus spoke with urgency then, of betrayal and denials and dying and the words just couldn’t find purchase in our heads – it was as if they passed through us leaving only shreds of sentences that made no sense to us. So, when Jesus said he wanted some fresh air and got ready to go to his favourite place, Gethsemane on the lower part of the Mount of Olives, I think we were all glad to escape the feeling of claustrophobia we’d started to feel in that upper room…

So we went to the olive grove. We were all weary and our eyes were heavy. Jesus told us to pray that we didn’t fall into temptation, but to be honest we weren’t really up to that – we just needed to shut our eyes for a bit. Jesus went a bit further on and we gave in to our need for sleep.
It was John Mark who told us later what had happened. He’d crept out of the house following us – just in his night clothes – his mother would never have given permission – to be honest, Jerusalem can be dangerous on Passover night with so much drinking and merriment. No place for a young lad to be out and about. He’d hidden near to Jesus, seen us all dropping off and saw and heard everything.
Jesus was really agitated. He prayed aloud, frantically, begging God to ‘take away this cup of suffering’. He seemed frightened. He was sweating and there was blood mixed with his sweat which scared the boy. Jesus appeared to be having some kind of invisible battle, he looked to be in utter anguish and, suddenly, so vulnerable. The olive trees surrounded and towered over him and seemed suddenly so strong and steady, those thick gnarled trunks speaking of age and wisdom and security.
Jesus did return to us and was uncharacteristically het up -why weren’t we praying? Why couldn’t we be there for him? Please! Please pray. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. I wish we could go back to that night and be there for him but we weren’t. He’d managed to get through the meal, washed our feet and earnestly shared the things he knew that mattered. He’d held it together, despite his growing dread and doubts But, despite all he’d done for us, he was alone.
Or so he thought. Unknown to him John Mark was there and then there were those special trees…, a community of them, interlinked, ancient, gnarled, strong, steady witnesses, faithful companions when humans failed…. And I, for one, am grateful to them.
Perhaps they helped him reach that place of peace and acceptance that John Mark saw happen: ‘No, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what you want. It’s your will that needs to be done and I can do it. I’ll do it. Your will be done Father – your will…’
For me that’s as important as what happened the next day. The battle was won there that night. Jesus stayed. He didn’t run. He stayed knowing that Judas would be on his way with the temple guards, that everything would escalate, that he would have no control… Like his mother Mary some 30 years before, he said yes.

So, tonight we choose to pray with Jesus. In the next few minutes we take time to respond to Jesus, remembering what he did there that night. And we pray for our world undergoing its own Gethsemane – praying for those fearful of death, for the grief-stricken and for those working to save lives, risking their own… We pray for God’s will and for resurrection to come after this time of trial.
Play Taize: ‘Stay with me’ (5 minutes)


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