Maundy Thursday, 2020
The shadows lengthen. In ordinary times, we would be gathering in the sanctuary to hear the story of friends gathered around a table for the last time. We would extinguish candles as we recounted the shadows that surrounded Jesus this night: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the hate and fear of Jesus’ enemies, the anguish of the garden prayer, the horrors of the cross. As we were reminded on the longest night at the end of last year, the darkness is necessary in order to see the light. But tonight we do not let ourselves leap ahead to the end of the story. We stay here in the darkness.
We are in darkness now. It is a time of unknowing: How long will we be in lockdown? Who will get this virus? Who will survive it? Some will wonder how they will feed themselves or their families; how long will the money last? Will my business fail? All are aware that we have no way of knowing what the ultimate impact of the pandemic will be, on us, on the nation, on the world.
Into this time of unknowing, Jesus comes. He gathers us together -though physical gathering is not possible, we can call to mind our friends at St Andrews and other loved ones. Imagine us together, for our bonds are unbreakable. He gathers us and he invites us to an ordinary table, our kitchen table. There is bread, there is wine…ordinary things that become extraordinary under his blessing. He takes up the towel, wraps it around his waist, picks up a basin with water and goes to each one, stooping to wash our feet. We are embarrassed; we look away. But we receive the touch. We sense the tenderness of the moment. When he is done, he looks at us with love and asks if we know what he has done to us. Then he gives us the new commandment: to love one another as he has loved us. To love one another.
This is what darkness calls for: for us to love one another. For us to be a small, affirming flame remembering the power of love as light in the darkness.
Our hearts burn within us as the evening proceeds. We follow him outside beneath a starry sky. He kneels to pray; his body writhes in anguish. We cannot bear to watch. We fall asleep. Three times he wakes us. Twice we fall back into the stupor of sleep. The third time the arrival of our brother Judas and a large crowd shock us into wakefulness. Judas kisses him. The soldiers arrest him. The Temple governors look on with approval. We are doomed. He is dragged off. Despite our best intentions, we flee. We cannot help but flee.
When we are sore afraid, we flee, we fight or we freeze. We have no control over these responses – they are our brains’ way of keeping us alive. There is no need for shame, though we do feel it. The disciples fled at the arrest. Peter overcame his fear for a brief moment, and then retreated back into it – denying that he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice. We want to condemn him, but deep inside we know that we would have done the same thing.
The sanctuary is dark now. We are alone with our vulnerability, our humanity. We look up, from whence will our help come?
Slowly, silently someone approaches. The single Christ candle is lit. We remember the new commandment. We remember that the power of love is light in darkness. We can abide. We can wait through what feels to be unending unknowing. We will keep faith. We will love.