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Friday, April 22, 2011

Maundy Thursday: Intimate beyond measure?

was reflecting this Maundy Thursday about how we as a church have lost a sense of intimacy in our worship. We seem to feel uncomfortable about being intimate as a community when it comes to worship.

The liturgy of the evening of Maundy Thursday when we recall the institution of the Lord's Supper, or if you prefer, the Eucharist, the Mass, Holy Communion is the one service in the year where intimacy is key.

 At this service -which takes its name from the new commandment of Jesus Mandatum novum do vobis 'a new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you...' (John 13:34)- we gather in a quiet and reflective way as the people of God to capture again something of the intimacy and tension of that Last Supper when Jesus in the midst of the political tension and rumblings around him sat down to share a life-changing meal with his disciples. It was Passover time. 
This particular Passover would be infused with meaning that would take a lifetime to unfold for the disciples. At this meal Jesus shocks the disciples when he kneels down to wash their feet. The lowliest of tasks. Jesus demonstrates a model of caring, loving, intimacy and service that would transform the values of the world. This meal would be the link of love, remembrance and presence for all who would choose to follow this particular Rabbi. And so when we gather on Maundy Thursday we travel back to this special evening. It is a service and ceremony that should make us tingle with awe. It is a service that should inspire in a way that leaves a mark of deep humility and sense of privilege on all who are called to ministry.

I miss being in a parish community in Holy Week more than any other week in the year. I am still nurtured and humbled by profound moments from the many Holy Week journeys in the parishes I have served in. Maundy Thursday was an evening when on many occasions the depths of communion, fellowship and ministerial care came together in a trinity of profound love. The poignancy of kneeling and washing the feet of those I had served, washing feet that had carried the burdens of their owners: feet that were rarely on view to the world. This was done in a quiet and intimate way at the person's seat rather than as a spectacle at the front of the church. That momentary glance and meeting of eyes as this short gesture came to an end held a sense of deep story when just for a moment each of us was acknowledging silently and fully the significance of what had just happened. In most cases those stories of ministry during the year were known only to us and God, and yet were part of who we were in the wider body and community of Christ.

Celebrating the eucharist on an altar in the midst of the people was another way we captured this intimacy and fellowship 'κοινωνία' . Bread and wine, simple elelemnts transformed with life-giving meaning, and so the description of this wonderful liturgy could go on and on...

How can we recapture a sense of intimacy in our worship? At a time when so many come to us seeking love and connection we fail to connect in a way that enables them to feel touched by the God who loves them utterly and unconditionally for who they are. 

I have been sharing in the Holy Week journey in a number of churches this Holy Week as a worshipper. Twice in the last week I was greeted at the door of a church with what I can only describe as a frosty reception: a sense of inconvenience.

On Maundy Thursday, perhaps more than any other day in the year God in Christ calls us to be intimate, to be warm to be loving. A new commandment I give to you that you love one another...