St Patrick's Cathedral, Trim

A reflection for Maundy Thursday

The East Window at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Trim

Reading: John 13:1-17, 31-35

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

The New Commandment

Jesus said, ‘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. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Reflection for Maundy Thursday

You will recognise the photograph displayed at the top of the page as the east window of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim, depicting the Last Supper. It is a very beautiful stained glass window with wonderful detail, which can be appreciated all the more since it was restored a few years ago. The inscription below the window, behind the altar, reads: ‘This do in remembrance of me’. Normally on Maundy Thursday we would obey that command of Our Lord by having a celebration of Holy Communion, but of course the COVID-19-related restrictions mean that we are presently unable to gather together for public worship.

The reading from St. John’s gospel for this day is the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet following the supper. The fourth gospel does not include an account of the Last Supper with the words of institution, but it does lay heavy emphasis on the Eucharist elsewhere in chapter six with Our Lord’s teaching on the Bread of Life. Instead, the account of the supper lays emphasis on Jesus’ relationship with his disciples and their relationship to each other.

The artist who designed our ‘Last Supper’ window has included a bowl, water jug and towel in the foreground, just to the bottom left, to draw attention to the action of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet. St. John sets the scene for us, saying that ‘Jesus knew his hour had come to depart and go to the Father.’ He describes the poignancy of this moment and the love Our Lord had for ‘his own’, whom ‘he loved to the end’. The next sentence tells us that one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, would betray him, adding to the weight of sorrow experienced by Jesus. We can clearly identify Judas in the bottom right of the stained glass window – he has his back to Jesus and the others and looks decidedly uncomfortable to be a part of that intimate meal. I will leave it to you to judge what his facial expression is intended to convey. Is it hostility, guilt or, perhaps inner conflict?

It is clear from the gospel writer’s description that Our Lord had a very definite intention in washing the feet of his disciples during supper. Normally a servant would wash the feet of guests on arrival at a house, to take away the dust and grime from the heat of the day. We can understand Peter’s reluctance to receive this act of a servant from his master, but Jesus was insistent and underlined his intention when he returned to the table. He had set them an example of service: ‘For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’

This is a lesson in humility and service for every member of the Christian community. We are called to be a servant church, not seeking power or privilege, but to humbly serve others in the name of Christ. These virtues of humility and service are badly needed in today’s world. At the time of writing, our news is dominated by a clamour of people demanding to receive vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, with some insisting that the rights of their particular group or profession should precede others. In recent weeks we have heard the ugly term ‘vaccine nationalism’ used in the media, referring to the competition between nations to acquire supplies of the vaccine. A closer following of Our Lord’s example would display a concern to see that the world’s poorest and most marginalised people are cared for as a priority.

I believe that we should also resist calls for the Government to relieve restrictions on public worship until expert advice deems it safe. As a servant church, we put the needs of others before our own. In good time, we will be able to gather again to worship and obey Our Lord’s command, ‘This do in remembrance of me’. In the meantime, patience is required.

On this Holy Thursday, as we contemplate Our Saviour’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, may we be inspired to follow his example and teaching to love and serve one another. Amen.

Collect for Maundy Thursday

Almighty God,
at the Last Supper your Son Jesus Christ
washed the disciples’ feet
and commanded them to love one another.
Give us humility and obedience
to be servants of others
as he was the servant of all;
who gave up his life and died for us,
yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

Lord Jesus Christ,
We are reminded today that you were broken for us,
that you gladly endured sorrow, suffering and death
for our sakes.
You identified yourself with humanity,
standing alongside the broken-hearted,
accepting the limitations of life and death.
We pray for all who are broken in body, mind or spirit.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are in pain,
racked by illness and disease,
physically disabled,
maimed or injured through war, terrorism,
disaster or accident.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who mourn loved ones
or who face death themselves,
those tormented by fear or anxiety,
the mentally ill or handicapped,
and all who are confused or overwhelmed
by the complexities of daily life.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those whose spirit
has been broken in the storms of life –
overwhelmed by sorrow,
overcome by disappointment,
crushed by tragedy.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those whose faith has been battered
by the harsh realities of this world –
their confidence shaken,
their trust destroyed,
their love grown cold.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ,
who endured such turmoil of mind in Gethsemane,
whose body was broken on the cross,
who surrendered your spirit to the Father,
reach out now in love and compassion
to all in any such need,
bringing the assurance of your presence,
the comfort of your peace,
and the joy of your love.

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer,
for we ask it in your name.
Amen.

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