A Reflection for Maundy Thursday
In my faith community we have lately been asking ourselves what is our purpose. We are getting ready to make some big changes, and we really want them to be driven by God’s dream for us. Who are we? What is our vision and our mission?
I have discovered just how wordless these questions leave me. I want to mutter, with a forbidding scowl, “How the heck do I know?” In spite of the fact that I know how important it is going to be for us to articulate the answers – or to have at least walked around the parameter of them – I can only respond with uncomfortable irritation.
Partly I fight the unconscious inclination to limit us to a set of behaviors. We are not, after all, providers of meals for homeless people. Nor are we helpers at the local food bank, nor are we donors to a school in Haiti. We do those things, of course; but they are just a few of the things that are brought to birth in us because of who we are.
Where do I look for the language that goes below that “doing” to an utterance of what is more fundamental? How do I describe our Soul?
Even as I struggle with this we are standing on the threshold of the Triduum, not only my community but you and yours. Together we turn, facing away from the outer world, to experience once again the core of that which we profess to be true. Together we prepare to experience a mystery. In liturgy that has evolved over hundreds of years, we will taste and smell, hear and walk through the story that defines us most profoundly.
Jesus will say to his disciples, “be servants to one another.” And we will dare to be those people whose feet are washed and who wash the feet of our neighbors. Jesus will say, “Eat this bread; here is my body. Drink this wine; here is my blood.” And we will risk taking that bread and that wine into our mouths, knowing full well how life-altering that act can be, how it opens us to the needs of all the world.
We will hazard trying to stay awake with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We will presume to shout, “crucify him!”, even while we deny him three times, run in fear and hide ourselves, help him carry his cross, wipe his face, witness his torture, and weep as he dies. And these acts will join us with all suffering and all death.
And then will come Christ’s great, dark journey through the underworld of the psyche. Bait to the forces of shadow and wholly consumed, he will still prevail. He will harrow hell itself. And that will make us, once again, certain of his presence even in the bleakest night.
In a miracle exceeding our wildest dreams (even when we already know it is coming), he will be resurrected. In the Great Easter Vigil we will witness his mind-boggling triumph. On Easter morning we will celebrate with all Christendom who Christ is. And if we proclaim who Christ is, aren’t we also announcing who we are?
The Triduum will engulf and clarify us. For we are the people who engage in these liturgies. We are they who dare to lift the bread and the wine to our lips, who presume to wait and watch, who risk suffering, running away, repenting and sorrowing, knowing that we are Christ’s at a level much deeper than words. Christ reveals himself in the story reenacted in these most holy days, and therefore he also reveals us. For we are, for better and for worse, his people, the followers of his Way. It is our story and it defines us.
Perhaps knowing that will make the task my community has before it easier. First we are Christ’s people. Next we are Christ’s particular little community in this place. First we are revealed in the holy mystery at the heart of our worship. Then we make it our own.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image from Episcopal Café image archive