Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday

(photo by palestrina55)

(*This post was delivered to the lazy webmaster on or before Maundy Thursday. The webmaster offer's the webmaster's sincerest apologies.)

A viewer asked why I am called “Eternal Optimist,” since many of my screeds are not overtly optimistic. By the way, isn’t “screed” a great word? Like most great and pithy words we use, including the word “pithy,” it comes from Old English, “screade,” a long strip of cloth. Nowadays it is used for several purposes – the one at hand being a lengthy diatribe or harangue. But enough of that.

Anyway, today is a good day to explain, since it is Holy Thursday, also known in English speaking countries as “Maundy Thursday.” The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” the first word in the antiphon during the Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday: “mandatum novum . . .” “a new commandment [I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 13:34].

In Catholic tradition, and many Protestant traditions, we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples by a special ceremony, at which the priest washes the feet of some of the lay members of the congregation. We remember how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and told them of his new commandment, to love one another as he had loved them. Since God Incarnate loves us enough to wash our feet, who are we to feel pessimistic about the future? At least on an eternal scale, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

The foot washing ceremony is quiet and moving, because even in the 21st century washing someone’s feet is a sign of love, respect and submission. We don’t often see it, except perhaps in the context of a mother washing her children’s feet, or a nurse washing a helpless patient’s feet.

Few people are overly enthralled with sharing their feet. In Palestine, circa 33 A.D., where the roads were covered with dirt and dung, and the apostles feet were shod in sandals, a foot washing was something close to wiping someone’s behind. So when Jesus did it, and told the apostle’s his new commandment, he was illustrating in a quiet and profound way the depth and scope of the commandment. We are not only to “put up with” our neighbors; we are to embrace in love the duty of caring for the most odious realities of our neighbors’ existence. Even more to the point, we are to embrace our neighbor’s loving care and attention for our own weaknesses.

We come into contact with the world through our feet, and our feet get dirty on a regular basis. We clean one another’s feet by carefully addressing the “issues” of our neighbor’s life with love and attention, rather than in anger or in spite. Sometimes (too often) Eternal Optimist has to listen carefully to his wife, as she explains to him what his caustic tongue just said to her, and how it hurt. And then Eternal Optimist has to apologize, because she’s right, and she’s just telling the truth, and she loves the Eternal Optimist, despite his obvious shortcomings.

Sometimes Eternal Optimist tries to explain how his tongue is a separate being, and he can’t be held accountable for the unbelievable things that his tongue insists on saying. This doesn’t work, but Eternal Optimist is often embarrassed by what comes out of his mouth. Apparently this is not uncommon, as James’ Epistle addresses the issue quite forcefully.

Eternal Optimist is none too good at administering foot washings, and probably none too good at receiving them. So Maundy Thursday is a special day, when he is reminded of how, after five decades of trying, he is still not so good at essential aspects of following Jesus.

And that’s why I am Eternally Optimistic, because Jesus was God, and he loves even the Eternal Optimist, with his sometimes catastrophic tongue. It is more than enough to inspire confidence in the final outcome of all things. It is more than enough to inspire the EO to continue to perform a task at which he is, frankly, not naturally gifted. But that is not the point, is it? The point is that loving one another is what Jesus did and commanded. That’s what we are called to follow, and it doesn’t matter if we limp, stumble and fall. He said “follow me.” He did not say “gracefully.”

Good thing, too.

See you at Mass tonight? Maybe Confession?

1 comment:

  1. This embarrassment over what comes out of one's mouth at times is not only a human trait by high on the list of family bad genes. It has frequently been pointed out to me as a failing and I have in turn noted the earthly Father having a problem with it. Sorry about the unintended inheritance!!