Thursday 9th April
God our Father, you have invited us to share in the supper which your Son gave to his Church to proclaim his death until he comes: may he nourish us by his presence, and unite us in his love; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament you have given us the memorial of your passion: grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood that we may know within ourselves and show forth in our lives the fruit of your redemption, for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.
Exodus 12.1-4 – 11-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
John 13.1-17, 31b-35
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.
When he had gone out, 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 by The Rector, Revd Mark Lowther
God be in our mouths and in our speaking, God be in our ears and in our hearing, God be in our heads and in our understanding. Amen.
.. 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.
The ‘roads’ of biblical times were dusty and dirty – both in the cities and outside in the country. Animals passed along them and, well, let’s not go into too much detail but we can easily guess what might have been on the road – and in quite large quantities too. And however hard you tried, the dust and the dirt ended up on your feet. It must have been a great relief to kick off your thin leather sandals and have a good wash. When you arrived at someone else’s house you’d usually do that yourself, so as not to tread dirt into the house. If you visited someone wealthy enough to have servants it would have been one of them, often, of course, a slave, who would have performed the task – and it can’t have been very pleasant. So it’s not surprising that Simon Peter was so shocked by what Jesus did. The host washing the feet of the guests. And, after all, Peter had been the first to identify Jesus as Messiah – he above all people knew what a big gesture this was. The Messiah acting like a slave and, literally, doing the dirty work.
As priest theologian Timothy Radcliffe points out, there’s an extra layer of meaning that often goes unnoticed here. There was one person apart from a servant or slave who might wash a man’s feet – his wife. I quote from an unpublished sermon Radcliffe wrote for Maundy Thursday: ‘A rabbi would not let his disciples wash his feet, but he could ask his wife; not because she was a servant but because they were one body. There is a charming little story called ‘Joseph and Asenath’, written about this time, in which Asenath, Joseph’s bride, will not let anyone else touch Joseph’s feet. “Your hands are my hands and your feet are my feet and I will wash them, and no-one else will touch them.” Throughout the Middle and Far East you will find that the washing of feet is part of the betrothal and marriage ceremonies.’ And what does Jesus say to Peter in today’s Gospel – ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’. This is Christ uniting himself with his followers in a very special way.
So what about us here, now? My wife did offer to have her feet washed on a live streamed service but I politely declined – camera angles could be a bit tricky! But just imagine that in a moment or two one of the clergy washed your feet. A symbolic gesture – but symbolic of what? Well at one level, of course, it’s ‘service’ – an example of what Christ’s life was all about – a ministry of service – the servant king. A priest is still a deacon (whose function is to serve), just as a bishop is still both priest and deacon – the threefold order of priesthood is incremental like that and foot-washing is a symbol that we’re all still servants. At another level there’s that symbol of, as the Book of Common Prayer Marriage Service puts it ‘the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church’. Your feet are my feet. We belong one to another.
But as people come up to take part in this most intimate of ceremonies, there’s a traditional chant that’s usually sung – ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est’ – ‘Where there is charity and love, God is there’. ‘God is there’ – not ‘God might be there if we’re lucky’ or ‘God will be there if we get it right’. All that’s necessary is charity and love. Then God will be there. It’s not a biblical phrase but it might as well be – it’s one of the most powerful statements of the nature of God as there is. And, in those final words of today’s Gospel, Jesus commands us to love as he loved us. He washed the disciple’s feet – symbolically our feet – so we must do the same for others. And, I imagine, in these troubled times in which we’re living there must be a lot of foot-washing of one kind or another going on – serving others, trying our best to meet their needs. Perhaps next year at this time we should wash each other’s feet as well as having our own washed. And then maybe we should all head off to The Parrot or the Cross Keys with a bowl of water and a towel over our arm and give some people a real shock. Amen.
No foot-washing today, as I said, but here’s Maurice Duruflé’s beautiful reworking of the traditional chant for ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.’ The melody is centuries old, the 20th-century harmonies are Duruflé’s own.
MUSIC Ubi caritas – Duruflé