It’s Maundy Thursday today (2013, just in case you wondered). It’s the Thursday before Easter, the “anniversary” of the Last Supper and the start of huge quantities of church services, in which various unusual things happen. Unusual even by church standards, and I hope we can all agree that’s a pretty high standard of unusual.
So this morning I shall gather with other members of the clergy from throughout the Diocese at our Cathedral. There will follow the Chrism Mass, sorry, Eucharist of the Oils. Large jars of olive oil will be blessed and we will take away a little to our parishes for use in anointing – at baptism, for healing, at death. We will share bread and wine in remembrance of the Last Supper, and we will renew our ordination vows. This year, I intend to be brave and stand with the Deacons as well as the Priests – once a Deacon, always a Deacon, so I think those vows deserve attention too.
This service is, rightly, a solemn and wonderful occasion, in the amazing space that is Winchester Cathedral. In my Deacon’s year, I had the privilege of carrying the oil. I always find this service very moving, as I stand with my brother and sister clergy, and we remind ourselves of what it’s all about and why we do it. It is a return to the heart of our calling.
And then there will be lunch in the North Transept. Over lunch, friends will be hugged, hierarchy will be greeted politely, gossip will be exchanged. Then it’s back to the Benefice, where it’s all about towels and bowls (please God, let me not confuse the spelling) and finger food.
Tonight is the Agape Communion, with Foot Washing. Yes. Really. We share a meal, much closer to what Jesus did with his disciples than our normal Sunday services, and at one point, the clergy will wash the feet of those who wish. Someone asked earlier “is it to make the vicar look like Jesus?” No, no, thrice no. It is to remind ourselves that Jesus served others, and we should all do the same (it doesn’t have to be clergy who wash the feet, I used to be part of a parish where everyone washed their neighbour’s feet – much more to the point). To hold someone’s foot, to wash it and dry it gently, is to care, is to become surprisingly intimate, is to be awed by the trust and responsibility. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Footwashing is love in action.
“But I’ve got smelly feet, I don’t want anyone touching my feet”. Yes, I expect you have, and no, I don’t suppose you do. Because if you do let someone wash your feet, they know exactly how smelly they are (and believe me, they won’t even figure on my scale – I am the proud owner of the smelliest pair of feet I’ve ever encountered. Seriously.) If you let someone wash your feet, you are vulnerable – you can’t really run away in the middle. you have to go through with it. If you let someone wash your feet you risk them tickling (they don’t mean to, and the secret is to be quite firm). “But I’ve got funny feet”. Yes, they are hilarious. So have I. If someone touches my bad foot the wrong way, it really really hurts. But no-one ever has while washing my feet, ever. The person foot washing is very aware of care, believe me. If you let someone wash your feet, you are vulnerable. Vulnerable to them, and vulnerable to God.
Right, I must rush off. It’s a busy one, and I haven’t even told you about Tenebrae yet. And I need to remember to take off my nail varnish, and dress appropriately for tonight. No tights. Embarrassing. Have a very blessed Maundy Thursday.