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Maundy Thursday SERVICE?

Yesterday, in a liturgy planning session, I expressed a desire to do something different for Maundy Thursday (this year to be April 2).  

The custom in many churches – one I don’t like, for reasons I explain a bit below -- is a ritual foot-washing, where clergy wash each other’s feet, then the feet of others, then others are invited to wash each other’s feet. 

The symbolism is fine – in a scene found only in the Gospel of John (Matthew, Mark, or Luke do not record it), after the Last Supper, Jesus stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciple’s feet. 

So that first "Maundy Thursday," Jesus did what only a servant would do
-- and the lowest-ranked servant at that. 

He modeled service. 

He told his followers that following him meant loving him, and loving him meant loving and serving others.   

But here's the thing: Jesus did something that was done on a daily basis: in a culture/society where sandals and dust and probably raw sewage was common, but well before modern daily showers, covered shoes, and clean sidewalks, foot-washing was common

It isn't anymore. 

But the church has turned Jesus' one-time, one-Gospel-recorded foot-washing demonstration into a ritual, a liturgy. Sometimes it's even set to pretty music.  

Fair enough: the church has done the same thing with the other event that happened that night -- the Last Supper, turning it, too, into a ritual, a liturgy-sometimes-set-to-pretty-music. 

But first of all, that (the Last Supper) was re-appropriating a ritual meal already long in place (the Seder). 

And second, eating bread and drinking wine are still common practices. We still do that.  

The foot-washing, on the other hand, seemed to be a one-time dramatic-demonstration-to-make-a-point, much like when he gathered a small child in his arms to make a shock-value point about who is most able to comprehend Kingdom-of-Heaven values, or when he rode humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey instead triumphantly in a chariot to make a shock-value point about the kind of ruler he is. 

It doesn't seem Jesus was trying to institute a formal church custom in those instances. 

I don't have any trouble with churches and people who find meaning in this ritual. My intention here is not to try to talk anyone out of doing this, or anything else, if they find it makes them better disciples of Jesus, closer to God, more loving to their fellow human beings. 

But -- using "I" statements here -- for the reasons above, I find the foot-washing service (at least as I've always done it and seen it done) as contrived, or precious. And if I’m reading my Bible correctly, there is nothing contrived or precious about Jesus. So since coming to my new church, taking advantage of having a blank slate/fresh start, I haven’t done it. (We've done an instructed Eucharist instead.)  

But I don't want to throw out the baby of loving-service-to-others with the foot-washing bathwater. (Ha! You see what I did there?)   

So I am looking for something else to do this and future Maundy Thursdays. 

And that’s when it struck me: let’s do a “Maundy Thursday SERVICE.” 

A day, or an evening, when we – who as inside-the-beltway Episcopalians are ordinarily in positions to BE served – serve.

Which begs the question, “where, whom, to serve?” Among the many possibilities, how to choose? Who else out there has gone out into the city, not out of a sense of noblesse oblige (the "inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged,") but out of a loving, Christ-like, Jesus-following sense? 

It begs the further questions: "who are those who normally serve? -- easy answers are waiters, bus drivers, cashiers. How about cleaning crews? Parking garage attendants? Public servants? The point is, “what would it look like if instead of making Maundy Thursday a day when people should come to the church building, the church (people) went out to those who spend much of their days (working lives) serving others, and we serve them, somehow?” Thus, our “Maundy Thursday service.”  

Alternatively, we could serve the city: Is there some unwanted task in the city somewhere, some nasty project no one wants to take on that 100 church folk could descend upon and make a real difference in one day?


That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the idea. But this wheel has to have been invented out there. There HAS to be lots of good ideas and practices. Right?  

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