Maundy Thursday is a day of turmoil.
We are confronted with the stark reality of Jesus’ betrayal set against the act of love and remembrance Jesus leaves his disciples with – washing their feet and instituting what we now celebrate in the Great Thanksgiving.
What are we to make of this? How do we put the incongruent bits together? If we succeed in doing so it is like putting a broken mirror back together, unless you are very clever the cracks remain.
What may be interesting to consider are the two elements that Jesus uses to exemplify love and remembrance. Typically Jesus uses easily accessible everyday items. There is no thing special about what he uses or what he does. These are items and acts we share each day.
Jesus makes use of water and bread as symbols of his life and his practice. Jesus is more interested in what you do than what you think or believe. He wants his disciples and us to under stand it is the simple, demeaning acts that are indicative of who you are as a person. It doesn’t matter how clever, how devoted to dogma and tradition you are. That is of little consequence. It is what you do and the spirit with which you do it.
He takes water, something every one takes for granted, and washes the feet of his Disciples, that part of the body that is in touch with the body of creation –the earth our Mother. Water and earth are partners in growth and life they hold hands to give us all we need. They are often taken for granted and its just assumed that they will always be there.
Jesus elevates the status of both as being indicative of our love for God and each other. This love is not fancy or elite, it is not elaborate or eloquent, it is not about prestige and honour. This love is basic and dirty, humbling and degrading, simple and overlooked. You do what you need to do with out looking around to see who is watching and you engage fully with the ordinary elements of life.
If you try to avoid this kind of love, you have no love at all.
Jesus then, as he always does, ups the ante. He brings water and dirt together in the bread and wine he shares. With out water and dirt there can be no grapes or grain, no wine and bread. He presents these items as the essential ingredient symbols of his ministry and life.
He makes a statement about his humanity and divinity. He is the product of creation, a creation imbued by God, a God Jesus recognises as his Father. There is no separation, he stands in solidarity with the baseness of life and elevates that baseness to the centre of all worship and practice – the simple meal we share together as a reminder and empower of his life for and in us.
We are to remember that the Gospel writers are writing backwards. They know what happened and they have begun to reimagine Jesus life. Thus we get the ideas about Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. I doubt if that was part of Jesus thinking and, if we unpack this scene, there is much more here to do with the blessing of creation than with original sin.
Jesus knew he was going to be punished. He also knew that he had to find away to give meaning to what was happening and symbols of hope for the time after. He knew his disciples were human and that they would splinter, collapse in fear and struggle to move on. He showed them that they were to remain deeply committed to serve and care for each other and gave them a symbolic practice that would continue to bring them back to him and each other.
Washing feet and sharing meals, the everyday acts of hospitality places our faith in the fertile geography of dirt, water and fruit – the elements of necessary nourishment we share together. Jesus says if you remember to do these things together then you will get through this, in fact you will remain faithful through whatever will come your way.
Let us continue in these practices of service and ritual Jesus left with us, for they will sustain us just as the elements at their core do for creation.