They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:32-36)
Maundy Thursday is upon us, the night we remember and relive Christ’s final moments with His disciples before he was taken from them in order to be crucified.
We remember His celebration of the Passover with them: Israel’s sacred commemoration of their ancestor’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery, as the Lord God struck down the firstborn of their captors. We remember how Jesus transformed their understanding of this already sacred meal into more than a commemoration of the Living God’s saving acts in the distant past, and that now, through His own body which would soon be broken and His own blood which was soon to be shed, the Living God was again about to deliver His people… and indeed, open the doorway for the rescue of all peoples. Tonight, we Christians remember with reverent joy the sacred gift of Holy Communion; God’s gracious self-offering life and love, made accessible to us in faith through the body and blood of God’s Son. We are used to sharing this gift together, but tonight we remember this Holy Communion without being able to eat and drink. Our true Communion continues, yet tonight we taste the loss.
We remember too the way of humility and service Jesus opens for us: as He took on the role of a lowly servant and washed the feet of His disciples. In this surprising act Jesus reveals that the Glory of the Lord and the nature of His greatness is not shared in by amassing power and influence for ourselves, but in laying aside our own selfish ways and stooping down to serve each other… caring for those around us in simplicity and sincerity, and seeking their honour and well-being instead of chasing after our own. Tonight, we Christians would remember this call to true godliness through the washing of each other’s feet, but tonight we are unable to re-enact this sign of our calling with our wider family of faith. Our true, humble and holy calling continues, but tonight we cannot feel its cleansing touch.
Tonight we remember the New Commandment that Christ gave to His disciples: revealing the depths of what it means to live as God’s children in this world. The fulfillment of the whole Divine Law and Covenant comes to its head as Jesus tells us His followers “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.” (John 13:34-35). Tonight, we Christians remember that this is always to be at the heart of our life together in the Church, and that more than anything else that might define who we are, we are called to love as Christ Jesus has first loved us. But tonight we struggle with how to love each other at a distance. Tonight we long for the shared life of love that is the Church, and though we remain united in our love for one another through the Spirit, we are still pained by our bodily separations. Our true community of love remains, yet we feel cut off from each other.
This is certainly not the Maundy Thursday celebration that we are used to. This has not been, nor likely will be, the kind of Holy Week that we remember and cherish. But it is the one which we have been given, and which still invites us to take part in the sacred story of Jesus Christ, who tonight shares with us something we might perhaps rather prefer to forget. For tonight in the Garden, praying alone, Jesus suffers with us. He takes upon Himself all the anguish and fears and sorrows of His people, and draws it all into Himself before His merciful Father. In His prayer that this dreadful cup might pass, “yet not what I want, but what You want”, Christ faithfully takes hold of all of our sufferings and makes them His own. His true act of self-offering also means sharing in our losses, our frustrations, our separations, and our sorrows.
Tonight, we remember the Gift of Holy Communion, the Way of Humble Service, the Commandment to Love each other, and Christ’s Suffering for and with us. Tonight we Christians remember that, whatever trials or losses or pain that we might be facing, our Lord Jesus faces it with us as well. He endures and tastes it along with us in all its bitterness, and bears it on our behalf to bring about our deliverance.
Tonight, may we remember that Christ is with us even now. And may we receive from Him all that He has to offer us this Holy Week. Amen.