Maundy Thursday -- Holy Week's Hidden Treasure

BlogHer Original Post

This Sunday, Palm Sunday will mark the beginning of "Holy Week" in Christian tradition. Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday. Deservedly, Good Friday, and Easter get the most attention. However, Maundy Thursday also contains an important teaching to take through this whole week and beyond.

One of the chief ways that Maundy Thursday is celebrated is in foot-washing ceremonies incorporated into or around a worship service. Typically, people in church leadership wash the feet of people in the congregation. This is taken from an account of Jesus, before the Last Supper, washing the feet of the disciples. The disciples are reluctant to let him do this. But he says to them: (John 13) :

`Do ye know what I have done to you? Ye call me, "The Teacher" and "The Lord", and ye say well, for I am; if then I did wash your feet -- the Lord and the Teacher -- ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye. Verily, verily, I say unto ye, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

He tells them straight up -- If I did this for you -- who are you to not do this for others?

And more than that -- "Happy are you who do the [these things].

Beyond the lesson about the character of Jesus, Maundy Thursday has a fine lesson for anyone of any faith.

Maundy Thurday is about getting over ourselves, and about paying attention to people who need us, who have taken care of us, served us. It is about learning once and for all that generosity is an act of required human service, not a bragging chip. It is a lesson in community.

Whose feet should you be washing? Who needs to know that even you do not consider yourself "better" than they are?

I am not suggesting that we all start wandering the streets and hills with a washcloth looking for feet. I am saying that when we look at our communities of life -- our jobs, neighborhoods, schools, stores, factories -- whom do we encounter that we should be humble towards? Who needs us to step down from our high assumptions?

Did we look into the eyes of our waitress today? Did we even read the name on her name tag? Why not -- was she "just a waitress"? Was she just someone that we expected would care for us and our needs whom we might tip later? Or was she "Margo" who may have had a horrible day and is frightened that she may not be able to pay her heating bill. Or she may be Claire, who volunteers as a Big Sister even though she barely makes enough money to get by. Did we thank her and mean it? Did we really tip adequately? Was her life any happier, even for a moment, for having met us?

The clerk in the grocery store, standing eight hours a day and being told to smile at everyone all the time -- did we even notice her hair color? Did we think about saying "What pretty earrings!" or "Thanks for bagging that so carefully," or making some comment that let her know she was actually seen or appreciated?

At the dry-cleaner -- did we take a couple of extra moments just to have a civil bit of pleasant smalltalk? Did we help humanize the attendant's day by speaking with them, not at them? Or did we walk away leaving just another numb moment behind us -- or worse yet, one in which the attendant may have felt our disregard -- our assumptions that the affairs of our day were so much more important than being courteous to them, as one human being to another.

You get the point.

We all could come up with a laundry list of people to whom we might have been better -- people who served us and our needs today.

I messed up today. I stopped at the drive-up window of the bank. I didn't even look at the woman. I remember it now with embarrassment. I just wanted my transaction done. I just wanted to drop off a deposit and dash. Did my saving ten seconds merit treating her like a robot? Would it have cost me anything to smile? To say more than some mumbled "ggmmgrthanks"? It is just so damned easy to slip up here.

The world races by. We race with it. And at the end of racing and ignoring everyone's else's humanity, we come home feeling the empty space where generosity of spirit should have been.

Yes, it is the waitress's job (or the clerk, or the attendant, or the teller) to take care of our needs. But does that mean that we have the right to not acknowledge the humanity we share with them?

Think back -- you can find a time when someone made you feel small just by not acknowledging you. We've all been brushed with that moment at some point in our lives. It is just difficult to connect that moment to what we do to others, isn't it?

But when I do -- whew -- I know I need to start looking with different eyes, with a different spirit. This world moves so fast it can be easy to run right over someone's feelings. But our humanity is at stake.

The added power in any religious observance lies in ways that we can internalize the larger message of the experience to make our day, our community and our world better, more whole. Maundy Thurday tells us that serving those who serve us is what we should be doing, not as an exception, but as the rule.

At the end of the day, everyone needs to have had their metaphorical feet washed. We all deserve to be acknowledged by those whom we serve, and we all need to acknowledge those who serve us. They are not "less" anymore than we are "less" than those whom we serve.

This should be so self evident.

But if it was so obvious, I would know the name of that bank clerk -- and I might have wished her a good day and meant it. But I didn't.

So how obvious is it?

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also tries to remember what is important at Time's Fool

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