It’s Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday in the Christian calendar — the beginning of Easter, our most sacred holy day. The whole weekend is devoted to remembering Jesus’ teaching, betrayal, death, and resurrection. From Thursday to Saturday, we will keep vigil, reading Biblical records of this weekend’s events over two millennia ago. We will pray, fast, repent, and remember. We do this to reground ourselves in God’s word, God’s love, God’s sacrifice for us, and the sacrifice that God requests of us. We are trying to live out John the Baptist’s prayer in our own lives — that Jesus increase, and we decrease.
I love Holy week, and am especially thirsty for it this year. The winter has been dark; my spirit feels dark. I’m like a bulb under the brown, lifeless earth — earth that is still frozen in my wintery Canadian home. I feel like I didn’t bloom last spring, nor the spring before that — the springs I watched my mother lose her life to cancer. So I’m desperate for this time to pray, read, rest, and remember; this time for rebirth.
Tonight we celebrated a Seder — the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends on this historical night, long ago. We prayed the prayer of thanksgiving over the cup, then drank it, just as Jesus blessed the cup, then gave it to his friends to drink with him that Passover.
From pitchers of water on the table, we cleansed each other’s hands. It was poignant that we needed each other’s help to wash; we’re no more able to wash away the grime of life, than our sins, ourselves. As my sister poured water over my hands, I accepted it as water of cleansing, forgiveness, and grace for my faults. As I poured water over hers, I prayed forgiveness, grace and blessing over her. She heard my unspoken words; taking my hand in hers, we felt a renewed communion and love flowing through them. We prayed the blessing over family members we missed dearly at the table.
How powerful the image, indeed, the act of cleansing each other is! Jesus took this common ritual to a profoundly deeper level that Passover night. Even though he was Lord, he stripped himself of its title (and trappings), kneeling before his followers in a towel. The wrongness of this image so offended his disciple Peter that he vowed Jesus would never wash his feet! But Jesus insisted that if he didn’t let him wash him, he would share no part in him. Then Peter eagerly submitted, asking for a full bath to fully partake of his Lord! How vain my pride felt remembering Jesus’ servitude, and foreshadowed sacrifice. The image of cleansing remained with me all night.
We read how God delivered the slaves from Egypt; eating parsley dipped in salt for their tears, and spilling wine to lament the death of the Egyptians, we prayed for the deliverance of modern-day slaves.
We broke the matzot, remembering Jesus’ body, broken for us, and drank the fruit of the vine, remembering Jesus’ blood, shed for us.
We sang a hymn, and blessed the Lord with the ancient words of the Jewish Passover Haggadah, “I will bless the L-rd at all times; His praise is always in my mouth. The ultimate conclusion, all having been heard: fear G-d and observe His commandments, for this is the whole of man. My mouth will utter the praise of the L-rd, and all flesh shall bless His holy Name forever and ever. And we will bless the L-rd from now and forever; Halleluyah praise G-d.”
Driving home, my heart overflowed with gratitude. Reflecting on the evening, I recognised how deeply I need to reflect and re-member, that is, to re-join my spiritual and physical actions, re-connect with my family, re-new my soul. A long-forgotten memory came to mind, of visiting an oasis in the deserts of Kenya. After 7 hours bumping down a dusty dirt path beside a paved road (because it was smoother going than the deeply potholed road), we emerged into an oasis in the desert. This man-made oasis grew where our friends helped Somali nomads plant trees for fruit and shade, vegetables to supplement their diet, giving sustenance to people whose land and bones were equally sun-baked and lean. The transformative ingredient was water, directed around the plantings by soil and concrete trenches. We laughed with the refreshment of grapefruits dripping down our chins, their coolness contrasting dramatically with the hot, plastic-tasting water in our jerrycans. The farmers shared their pride and produce with us, with tales of how life-giving this oasis was. But walking through the garden, I noticed some trenches that were dry, silted with sand that prevented the water from flowing past it. Nothing on that side of the sediment flourished.
How like our lives are those gardens; how like our spirits are those trenches; how like the spirit of God is the water; how fruitful our lives are when it flows freely!
But how like the silt are our sins and sorrows. We can’t help our failings and frustrations, or prevent life’s sufferings or death. Sand gets blown in, kicked in, and sometimes thrown into our spirit-channels with our very own hands. We can no more prevent the muck of life from soiling our lives, than those farmers could prevent the winds of harmattan from blowing dust into those trenches.
No, we can’t prevent the silt, but we’re responsible for preventing the sediment that accumulates, preventing the water of God’s spirit from nourishing our lives. That’s because we each are part of God’s garden, and without all of our fruit, there won’t be sufficient sustenance for the world. We are each unique, but essential, plants in the garden.
How can we wash the silt away? By asking God (and others) for forgiveness quickly. By meditating on the Scriptures, remembering that our ways are not God’s ways. By nurturing God’s spirit within us, until it produces the tears, streams, rivers, and fountains that well up within us to wash away the silt. Then the silt will flow to the delta, fertilizing mangroves in which other life flourishes. Because by God’s grace, nothing is wasted — not even our failings and sorrows.
“Give thanks to the G-d of gods for His kindness is everlasting.”