It is set on the Thursday before Easter in remembrance of the night preceding Jesus' crucifixion (Good Friday). Jesus had gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, and he puts a whole new twist on the event... turning it into the Last Supper. It was to be his last night alone with his closest friends; a night he tried to show them the full extent of what he was about. They ate together, and he washed their feet. Everyone's feet. Including Judas' (who was in the midst of betraying him).
A common thought is that the English word Maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum, and connects with John chapter 13; specifically verses 34-35 where Jesus says, "A new command (mandate) I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples..."
The act of feetwashing was an expression of this love. A sign of servanthood and humility. I imagine there was a lot of confusion and "what-in-the-world-is-going-on" going on. Jesus had been trying to explain things to his disciples, but they still just didn't seem to 'get it.'
I still find it a very disarming service. Which is why I also find it so meaningful. I think it's good for us to have to step back every now and then and say, "I really don't know if I know anything... but here I am anyway, Jesus."
In Brian McLaren's book 'The Secret Message of Jesus,' he says on p. 32:
Jesus says again and again, [his] kingdom advances with neither violence nor bloodshed, with neither hatred nor revenge. It is not just another one of the kingdoms of this world. No, this kingdom advances slowly, quietly, under the surface -- like yeast in dough, like a seed in soil. It advances with faith... And it advances with reconciling, forgiving love: when people love strangers and enemies, the kingdom gains ground.
On p. 34 he continues...
Is it possible that the message of Jesus was less like an advertising slogan - obvious and loud - and more like a poem whose meaning only comes subtly and quietly to those who read slowly, think long and deeply, and refuse to give up?
Yeah... I kind of think that's what Maundy Thursday is about. It is a day filled with darkness and doubt; confusion and confession. Most of the time people don't know what to do: "Is it okay to talk; to laugh; do we really have to wash someone's feet?" I don't really know what to do either. But I think it's good for us to go there... to submit to God... to admit we don't have everything figured out... and just be.
I encourage you to take some time today and read John 13. Contemplate where you fit in the story; who you are; who Jesus is to you; and what others mean to you. Just be still for awhile. And don't give up.
We will be having a very simple and informal gathering at 7 pm. We will read from the Bible, have some responsive readings, and take communion together. We won't be washing anyone's feet, but will contemplate how we might better serve and be served by Christ. Feel free to drop by if you care to.
Peace out, my friends; and in.