Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: ‘While ever on her knees’

Maundy Thursday
1 April 2021
Sung Eucharist

Revd Nicholas Mercer

As you know, we are now in Holy Week

As Christians, we follow the events of our Lords last week on earth as closely as we can

And today is Maundy Thursday which marks the start of his last three days

Maundy Thursday is when we traditionally celebrate the Last Supper in the upper room

We then follow Jesus, as disciples, into the Garden of Gethsemane, which we mark with our own vigil.

At the same time, the altar is stripped bare as we remember the desolation of our Lord

And during the service, we also wash the feet of a few members of the congregation

To remember Christ washing the feet of his disciples

Maundy Thursday is however one of the strangest days in the Church calendar

In less restrictive times, clergy would normally go to their local Cathedral to renew their vows

At the same time they would collect some of the blessed oil for use later in the year

The Queen would normally visit a different cathedral where she would distribute alms

Now in the form of Maundy money, there is usually one coin for each year of her reign

However, the origins of the Maundy money have a much humbler origin

Deriving its name from the Latin Mandatum, the word Maundy comes from the Latin, meaning to serve

Although not universally adopted, the monarch used to wash the feet of his or her subjects

In 1556, Queen Mary is recorded as having washed the feet of forty-one poor women (reflecting her age) “while ever on her knees”,

She then gave them forty-one pence each, as well as gifts of bread, fish, and clothing, donating her own gown to the woman said to be poorest of all.

The last English King to wash the feet of the poor was James II

But now we are very far away from that original act of monarchical service

It is now a carefully choreographed ceremony where the Queen wears gloves

And then distributes small leather pouches with specially minted coins

You may recall that I preached at the Feast of Christ the King last year where I contrasted the East windows in Stanley Cathedral and Bolton Abbey

Noting that Christ was sitting on his throne in Stanley yet was absent from the ravaged window at Bolton Priory

The point I was making was, not about the architecture, but about Christ himself

Because Christ is not to be found sitting on a throne like an earthly King

But is somewhere else –

The Last Supper is the starkest illustration of this

Stripped of his power and status, Jesus takes on the role of a slave, performing one of the lowliest tasks known to man

As Martyn Percy said: “Good Friday is already overshadowing him, stripped of clothes, shamed and outcast, dying on a cross”

But Christ washing the feet of others is also an example to the rest of us

Not only an example of the humility which we ought to show in our earthly lives

But also a model of a new kind of society which will be ushered in with the Kingdom of heaven

A community where we are bidden to serve others

This year, more than any other I can remember, for a brief moment in time we glimpsed a society where servanthood came before anything else

Those who worked in our hospitals

In our care homes

Those who emptied our bins and stacked our supermarket shelves

These people showed and modelled a society where we put the needs of others before ourselves

Where people chose to serve others first, even putting their own lives at risk

And where they were held in far greater esteem than the rest of us

We will soon return to business as normal

With metaphorical white gloves and leather pouches full of money

But let us remember this year what servanthood looks like

And seek to usher in a new society where it becomes the norm, rather than the exception