Maundy Thursday: The Location of the Holy is in the Familiar
About this time, most years, the faithful of the Christian tradition, are hastening to make space and time for this ancient ritual mystery of suffering love and the victory of life out of death. For many of us these ancient religious rituals lead us into the depth of our mysterious beliefs and renew our hearts and minds. The solemn beauty of candlelit washing of feet, stripping of the altar and all night vigils is precious to us.
Yet the journey that we are remembering began with a night of intimate and really quite domestic detail. (Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; and John 13:1-7, 31b-35.) The Passover festival, the time of Jesus’ last meal and then trial and death, was one of the most important religious festivals in the Jewish calendar, and yet like many Jewish rituals many of the most important elements were held in the home and not the temple. So Jesus’ last meal and night with his disciples was both religiously important and a night of domestic familiar intimacy. Salvation was worked out not in the grand temple but in the humble home of a friend with those who Jesus knew, for better and for worse (much worse it would turn out) most intimately.
The culmination of Jesus’ life and ministry was food, talk, washing of feet, a shared ritual cup of wine. In our elaborate and reverential rituals we risk forgetting that this was utterly holy and homely, sacred and yet domestic, a moment of love, service and salvation long known before in the Passover, come to fulfilment in the familiar yet radically new understanding of the covenant of liberation.
The home, the ordinary, the human domestic scale was the location of love, teaching, forgiveness offered before the disciples even understood that it was needed. And home, the ordinary and the human domestic situation, was also the location of the beginning of betrayal and of abandonment.
And so it is for us, the home, the ordinary, the everyday is the location of our betrayal and failure and of our tenderest mercies toward ourselves and others. It is in this small scale that the universal issues come to bear and are worked out with wounding and healing. And in a strange way this year, with the need to celebrate in our own homes parallel to one another, we have an invitation to make more real the heart expanding truth that the great work of salvation began in the humble home among the dubious and confused companions of our Lord. There is room for us in this story.
Every time we care for each other, most especially when we or they are deemed unworthy, we participate in the Easter mystery of suffering love. Every time we allow others to tend us, most especially when we have failed them, we participate in the Easter mystery of redemption. Every time we gather with those we love and those we suspect of being unworthy, we participate in the Easter mystery of hope and renewal.
The first Easter began in humble domestic detail and religious practice in the home, and Easter is made real in our humble lives or not at all. And what happens in our homes and hearts is both the reflection of what happens out there in the world and is the beginning of new life arising in our inner world and expanding out into ‘there’.
Let it begin – the mystery of love out of hate and betrayal, the mystery of hope out of despair and dread, and the mystery of life born of death. Let it begin here with us and in us.