Maundy Thursday - by Rev. Paula Porter Leggatt

Maundy Thursday - by Rev. Paula Porter Leggatt

Once upon a time . . . the whole land kept Holy week.  They would sing with the crowds on Palm Sunday, then rest with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the early days of the week.  On Wednesday they would hear the Gospel where Judas goes out to betray Jesus, and Jesus says words that don’t make any sense until they make sense:  

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  

They would gather again on Thursday for foot-washing, and over a three-year cycle they would hear about

·         Moses and the Exodus, and about the exodus with Jesus;

·         the foot-washing and commandment to serve one another, and to lay down one’s life for one’s brother, one’s sister, one’s friend.   

They would hear again the story of Jesus and the first Eucharist – a great thanksgiving of bread and wine, manna for the journey and cup of grace, gifts and signs that Gd takes care of them, journeys with them, and that Jesus would be with them as well, creating a new body of Christ:  an enduring assembly of people gathered into one as salt of the earth, bread for the world.  

The church would go dark as, in reverent silence, the sanctuary would be cleared, stripped of linens and decorations, candles and books and vessels, the crosses shrouded.  Someone might read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Reserved Sacrament might be tented aside in a corner; vigil candles lit as people would remain in prayer, coming and going all night long, modern disciples watching an hour with Jesus.  

Here at St. Martin’s we have come together to begin the great Drama that is at the heart of our faith.  For two thousand years the Church has proclaimed this story, and tried to tame it.  Every generation has discovered themselves in it, and found meaning for life in a world or time of disorder, dis-ease, death.  Every generation has grappled with the stories and events and asked with Pilate, “What is truth?”  

When Robin asked me to journey with you this year words of St. Paul came almost immediately to mind: For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who put their trust in the Holy One.     (I Cor 1:21, underlined is my paraphrase) These words frame the map we will walk over the next three days.  

I am a child of what is now called the ‘second’ liturgical movement kicked off by Vatican II, which met from 1962 – 1965.  That means my formation in liturgy and theology has been in light of the reforms from that extraordinary Council and rocked all of church-world well beyond Rome.  In the years I’ve been in the church, I have, like many of you, seen the cycle of readings we use on Sundays and holy days change at least three times (possibly four) as we have sought to read more of Holy Scripture over three years, to recognize that in Gd male and female are summed up and transcended, and to acknow-ledge that language effects belief and behaviour, so we must be more honest in translating words that were ‘neutral’ in the original languages with words that include the binary constructs of English – that is, a word which in Greek means “it” and is generic, must be translated into “he and she” in our language or else a part of the human community is left out. 

  As a child of the 2nd liturgical movement, I remember when we read the story of Jesus at Gethsemane in one of the cycles.  It is no longer part of the Maundy Thursday readings, and I think this is a greater loss than one might consider at first glance. It is in that part of the story that we see Jesus embody everything he lived and preached, and everything that will follow.  It is a living parable of what those who would follow Jesus are called to do.  It is where we will begin our reflection through our Triduum journey.   We remember the story – 

We remember that Jesus and the disciples finish their meal and return to the Garden of Gethsemane where perhaps they have been camping with other pilgrims who have come to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark Jesus asks three disciples to come aside with him, but in Luke all of the disciples are in the frame, meaning Luke thinks we must be present with Jesus.   

In two Gospels, Jesus tells them to keep watch – protect his solitude, perhaps? -- while in the third he tells them to pray that they do not come into temptation.  Jesus moves away to pray and returns to wake them three times in two of the Gospels but only once in the other, and after that the temple police come on site to arrest him.  

It is the prayer Jesus offers in those in-between times that is so powerful, and that I believe we need to hear and meditate on.  In Mark Jesus tells them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” in Luke we have a description of Jesus wrestling in prayer, and sweating blood, but in Matthew’s Gospel we hear only the words of the prayer.  “Father, take this cup from me, but, if not, your will be done.”     

The heart of this prayer:  “Your will be done.”  

(We might want to explore further ‘the cup’ – is it the cup of suffering?  the cup of wrath?  the cup of the Passover liturgy that he has made to be the cup of the covenant in his blood, which one?  or something else?  But that is for another day.)

  “Your will be done.”  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who put their trust in the Holy One.  

The wisdom of this world is My Will Be Done.  That’s how you get what you deserve, make it to where you are going and get there first.  My Will Be Done.   

But the wisdom of Gd is that we should “let go and let Gd.”  Holy wisdom is to know “we are the sheep of your pasture and the people of your hand.” (Ps 100:3 – with some remembered wording ‘from of old’)  The Way of Life is to put Gd first so that our prayer, our desire, is always “Thy will be done.”  A corollary of that prayer is that we put down our privilege and serve others – as Jesus shows in washing the disciples’ feet.   

“Thy will be done.”  This is foolishness in every age but I think especially in this age (probably people say that in every age too).  Our economy is based on me getting more, me buying more, me, me, me.  Even the wonder of social media, which started out as a way of affordably communicating with people at any time and in any place has become more about “me starring in the movie of my life” for a great many rather than any real connection.   

It comes at us under the illusion of providing shelter and clothing for our families, of being responsible and effective in our work, but at great cost, spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, environmental and in terms of our relationships.  It may not be you and me who are chanting the mantra, but some one along the line who is benefiting from our work is – you can bet on it.  (Our chant is ‘busy, busy, busy’ and it is destructive.)  

Thy will be done.  Look to Gd, do not be afraid. (Taizé chant)  Trust in the Lord with all your heart. (Prov 3:5)There are many voices in Scripture spea king this wisdom to us – all of them telling us to depend on The Holy One and to trust that we will be taken care of.  “Seek first the kingdom of Gd and Gd’s righteousness, and all you need shall be given to you.” (Matt 6:33)  Depend on Gd.   “Thy will be done,” Jesus prayed.  “I will continue as I have begun because that is what you have sent me to do.  I will continue even though they are plotting to kill me.  I will continue even though it will surely get me in trouble with the Romans – but Thy will be done.  You are my Gd and I will trust you.  Like the young men in the fiery furnace, I will say: even if the Lord does not save us, still we will worship him.  Like Job I shall say,

I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25)    

More than any other of the readings for this night, I think here we find the heart of Jesus and the wisdom of Gd. It doesn’t deliver Jesus from suffering, nor will it deliver us in our suffering.  It does not deliver him from death, but it does deliver him into the hands of the Holy One in whom he puts his trust.  We know that trust is not misplaced – we know where this journey ends.  

But tonight, we rest in this place, knowing how often in our lives we have led with our own wills, and that we will likely do so again.  And again and again Jesus will come to us and wake us up, call us to pay attention. “Thy will be done.”  

May God’s grace work in us as we meditate on these things so that we might become more like Jesus, choosing to live in Gd’s wisdom day by day.    

We would like to acknowledge Roy Henry Vickers for the print Easter 1985.