Thursday, April 1, 2010
I grew up imagining that Maundy Thursday was something to do with mourning and was not that excited by it. I preferred Good Friday where we were given 'hot cross buns' and sang a ditty from the 1700s. As I grew, I sang in the choir of our parish church. We tended to what I now know to be a fairly 'high' liturgical style, and Maundy Thursday was a pretty solemn and beautiful observance with not many of our fellow parishioners present. (Not unlike today at All Saints' now I come to think of it.) I remember learning that the name of the day comes from the Latin Mandatum Novum, or 'New Commandment'. "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" said Jesus even as he had just made this love manifest by washing his disciples' filthy feet. Today is the day in which we remember, above all, the gifts of love made manifest, first in the Eucharist and then in the consequence of that meal in our service to one another in the world.
It is around the Table that we are formed for life by telling the story of what really matters in life, the story of Love made Manifest. In telling and hearing this story while in table fellowship and conversation with one another, we turn our attention to that which is of ultimate worth and find our lives and values, our choices and hopes all being shaped toward what really matters. This is worship, or Ultimate Worth-ship, and is a particular gift that we celebrate in this memorial of the Last Supper.
About once a year I have the privilege of meeting with some high school students who have been selected to take a class on 'Philanthropy.' We talk about the origins of the parish as a particular geographical region and the way that understanding has developed in the Anglican Tradition. I enjoy pointing out that our parish 'philanthropy' is not so much something we do out of noblesse oblige or left over from our abundance, but is something that is rooted in the ancient law of Israel. The Torah understood community as meaning that the most vulnerable in life (the weak, the widows, the orphans and the wayfarers) were especially protected as a matter of common humanity or community. In a parish understood not as a congregation of like-minded believers, but as a geographical region, the church provides care for everyone in that area as a matter of being the church and recognizing how essential is the new commandment to our identity as human beings and children of God. Caring for one another in effective, often difficult, service is something that really and truly matters to us. It is not an 'optional extra' in life. It is at the heart and meaning of life. In the Episcopal Church the pastoral responsibility for a civic geographical region like a city or county is shared among the Episcopal Churches in that locale. We offer care to everyone because that is the generosity that is extended to us by God and the kind of love that makes us more fully who we are.
What made this commandment of the Last Supper a new commandment, was Jesus saying 'as I have loved you'. We are commanded to love, remembering that the worst thing in life is not death. The fate-worse-than-death is breaking faith with the Love that made us for Love.