This evening’s liturgy is one of the most mysterious of the year. In these last moments Jesus had with his Disciples in the upper room, we can almost feel a pin drop in the anticipatory nature of what is to come.
It isn’t difficult to get all ‘Vicar of Dibley’ about the washing of feet ceremony in Church. This ancient Christian practice, called the Mandatum, is so different, so personal to people, that it can even become a moment of stifled humour amongst some. Or we can just watch it on a peripheral level, without going deeper. In fact, this ceremony is at the very heart of Christ’s message. In Christ’s action of washing the feet of his followers, he tells them that they must remain humble. The King himself came to serve, not to be served. How do we live Christ’s humility? How do we enact this ceremony in our own lives, with our friends and family, our colleagues and those we come across via social media? How do we, on a daily basis, wash the feet of those around us? Christ is telling to do this. So, how do we do it?
Jesus knew what was going to happen that night. But we know from his time in the garden that he was frightened. Physically, mentally, mortally frightened. He begged God our Father to take the chalice away from him. But he added, Thy Will Be Done. Maybe he had learnt that from his mother, the handmaid of the Lord, who put herself into God’s hands.
Jesus will have thought about his mother in the garden before his arrest. He will have worried about her very much. It’s what sons do. He saw more clearly than her what was going to happen. She who pondered these things in her heart but did not fully understand, gave birth to the Son of God who was now frightened that he was to be killed, killed by those he is to save. It is a complex, messy situation for any human mind. And his was a fully human mind. The turmoil will have been horrendous.
On top of this, his followers, who were supposed to be keeping watch, kept falling asleep. He became irate with them. Is it any wonder?
The garden that Christ prayed in was on the hem of the desert, on the cusp of a barren land. It isn’t difficult to imagine that Christ looked into that darkness and wondered: “Shall I just go, disappear into obscurity?” Any human mind would have thought this, knowing what he did. Yet, he stayed there, even as he heard the men approaching to arrest him. He stayed there because he was committed to following his Father’s will.
How do we stay in our garden? It’s an odd question, but an important one. In other words, how do we continue doing the will of God despite difficulties? Perhaps when we are tempted to walk away from God – that is, tempted to be unkind to someone, to not follow Christ’s teachings – we can call to mind this idea of Christ looking out into the wilderness, yet staying where he was. He was willing to go through hardship – even unto death – because he knew that it was right. In our Gospel Reflection for Passion Sunday we spoke about it being a grace to see the whole Gospel message. We can see the events of tonight within the context of the whole story. When we are personally faced with difficulties in life, we are unable to see the whole picture. Instead, our lights just go out, and we enter into darkness. Our usual response is to flee, sometimes even if that means disregarding our own integrity or beliefs. At such times, and as hard as it is, we must place our trust in God. Whilst we cannot see the whole picture, God can. So, to give ourselves over to his guidance is the best thing we can do. Just as Mary gave herself to God’s will even though she did not understand, and just as Christ found himself so frightened yet did not move from his place of prayer to God.