A Meditation for Maundy Thursday
Many of the things which most impact us in life are on ordinary kinds of days, things which we do not expect - good things, bad things - ordinary days - that is jeans and t-shirt days.
According to John’s timeline for the meal which we have heard about tonight was a jeans and t-shirt kind of thing. Friends having dinner, friends looking forward to a party the next day which would be the Passover. Remember, when Judas leaves, that is what they think he is going to do - buy things for the party. This, of course, is a different timeline to the other three Gospels who have the Last Supper on the party day, the day of Passover.
John has this chronology, we think, because that way he can tell us that Jesus is killed at the same time as the Passover lambs are being killed. He makes it clear then that Jesus death is not a sin offering but rather sacrifice which will sustain and protect. Jesus death is not contractual - it is not to remove our blame - rather designates the people of God as they begin a journey.
But travel with me, as we return to the very ordinary, jeans and T-Shirt day.
“I’m hungry,” complained Peter.
“You are always hungry,” replied Andy, “how about the rest of you?” People nodded around the van, Jesus was driving, as usual. "Hey Jesus," Andy shouted, "do you mind if we stop and grab some food". Jesus replied,
“What are you thinking? Can we take it back to the house - I don’t feel like eating out.”
“Sure,” said Peter. Jesus must be really tired, he rarely turned down the opportunity to be around people and Jerusalem was heaving with folk to preach to. “Whatever you say boss.”
Andy pulled out his phone,
“I’ll order ahead,” he said, “everyone up for their usual?” He stared menacingly at Nathaneal who nodded meekly, the joke about wanting bacon on his burger last time had not gone down well.
Everyone was glad that Andy had been so organized as the drive thru line stretched all the way around the building. It was so busy. Andy hung on to the food until they got to the house, despite Peter’s protestations,
“You have to wash your hands, at least pretend to care. Those pharisees are all over us and that is all we need, you eating with unclean hands, we have already been in trouble for that.”
Peter did as he was told.
“Want to watch something?” asked Nate. Jesus shook his head no. Peter took a breath to protest that the Nazareth Narwhals were playing in half an hour but thought better of it - he had a feeling that today was not the day. Jesus did not seem hungry, he was picking at his food. He waved a fry in front of his face,
“You know,” he said, “one of you is going to betray me.” All the friends looked at each other around the room. Peter whispered to John who was next to Jesus,
“Is he alright? Ask him what he is on about.” John needed no further urging. Jesus looked really sad then,
“Whoever I pass this fry to,” he said, “that person will betray me.” He dipped a fry in the tub of ketchup and handed it to Judas who immediately disappeared - wow, it had got dark quickly.
Jesus got up and grabbed a towel and a basin and filled it with water. Now they were all looking, what on earth was he up to.
“I need to wash your feet,” he said to them. They shot glances at each other, no way - this was the job of a slave, the place of a poor person, a person they did not want to hang out with, to deal with dirty feet.
“Don’t be silly,” said Peter, “hand me the bowl and I will wash yours, otherwise it is backwards”
“No,” said Jesus,” it isn’t backwards at all, “I have to do this for you and you have to do it for others. One by one around the room jean legs were rolled up and feet readied for washing.
When Jesus finished the room had a silence in it which was both wonderful and unnerving, no one knew what to say or even what to think.
So what do we say or think? What do we say when jeans and t-shirt days turn into something else? Do we allow these days in Holy Week to enter into the ordinary and the ordinary enter into them.
It is very easy to put this story in a bubble where it makes sense, where we understand it. But when we try to make it neat and tidy, we lose its power. If it is scandalous to suggest Jesus wore jeans and a t-shirt, ate fast food and watched TV - then the scandal is on is - we have not understood.
John gives an ordinary meal, and ordinary meal which is colored with the hope and a great party the next day, a place where emotion is not running high and where expectation is for something so different to what happens. Perhaps we should accept the invitation to come to this place again but with fresh eyes, we just don’t know. I love the T.S.Eliot line in Little Gidding which says (the end of our exploring) Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time
I wonder whether we dare to take that route this Holy Week - to have no expectations and to understand that the ordinary and extra-ordinary can both be places of familiarity and wonderful new discovery.