Two acts of love and scandal

Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the three days of ultimate meaning and impact for Christian believers, starts in the cramped confines of the Upper Room.  Excited voices are heard below as late arriving pilgrims arrive in Jerusalem.  But for Jesus and his followers this was their last night together. It would be a night which stuck in the hearts and minds of all who were present, because on this night Jesus wandered from the script.  He did two things which would permanently alter the way in which human beings see each other. On Maundy Thursday we re-enact these two acts of love and scandal:  the commemoration of the washing of feet and the celebration of the Last Supper meal.

The Last Supper in the upper room where Jesus demonstrated the key to Christian life – devotion and sacrifice.

In his Gospel, John describes the depth of self-sacrificial love in the washing of the disciples feet, that Jesus was later to show on the hill of Calvary.  By washing the feet of his friends, Jesus shows no regard for his own status or dignity.  No self-consciousness here.  The feet that Jesus washed were the feet of the great unwashed.  For Jews, this act of purification would have been scandalous for someone claiming to be divine.  Yet Jesus again and again put self-sacrifice above and beyond any human law or construct.  For the washing of their feet was an endorsement of the new commandment which Christ gives us, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  How these words and these actions should be the defining characteristics of the followers of Christ.

And the second act of extraordinary self-giving that night was Jesus’ foretelling of his own death.  Jesus took the bread, as was expected at a Passover meal.  But by taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it, with the words “this is my body” our Lord was fulfilling the meaning of the paschal sacrifice.  And then to say over the cup, “this is my blood of the new covenant”, the disciples would have been scandalised.  For to drink blood was abhorrent to the Jews.  But for Jesus this cup of blood was to seal his covenant with God, and so giving his followers his own life’s-blood.

Tonight we will remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of unconditional love in the washing of the feet.  We are all servants through God’s love – status and honour are devoid of any meaning in this scheme of love.  Only the giving of ourselves to God and to each other, only this is the source of life.  As Christ gives himself in the Eucharistic feast so we live out his kingdom vision as he tells us, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Maundy Thursday Eucharist at 8pm at St Michael & All Angels, including the footwashing, the Last Supper and the prayer vigil at the altar of repose. 

Good Friday: 12 noon Stations of the Cross; 1pm Haydn’s 7 Last Words; 3pm The Good Friday Liturgy.

Holy Saturday: The Easter Liturgy at 9pm.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.