Maundy Thursday


I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

Because he has inclined his ear to me…

How shall I repay Him…


For some reason or other – and I don’t remember exactly why – as I was preparing this message – I recalled a question that was on some sort of church exam – maybe a discernment committee, I don’t recall exactly…

“It is five minutes until the service begins and a member of your congregation comes up to you and asks, ‘What is this Trinity all about?’ What would you say in reply and still begin the service on time?”

In that spirit I suppose, we might ask what is Maundy Thursday?

As I think about that – and as I think about what I can say that maybe can approach what it means – three scenes come to my mind. Let me share them with you.

The first scene is something I saw recently on the internet. It is a scene from war-torn Eastern Europe. It is not of a destroyed city, or tanks, or of armed helicopters firing their deadly missiles onto a city at night. It’s short. Maybe a scene of a country crossroads or a small village. The Blessed Sacrament is passing in a vehicle –an ordinary vehicle. People are standing on either side of the road. As the vehicle passes each person falls to their knees, then make the sign of the cross, and then bring their hands in front of themselves in prayer. And that’s it. A group of ordinary people, they fall to their knees, as this ordinary looking vehicle passes in front of them.

Some years ago, I was not part of a church – and had not been so for a number of years. One Sunday morning I woke up and felt that I needed to be in a church – I needed to go to church. And so, I did.

I ended up joining the church that I had visited that morning – and becoming a part of the Episcopal Church.

The preacher at that time was a man named Robert Shahan. Later he became a bishop in the church, but don’t hold that against him.

The second scene is one I saw in my mind’s eye as he told a story. Sometimes he would share stories of his own experiences. Some years earlier he and some other clergy were part of a delegation visiting one of countries of the Soviet Union. I forget which country it was. This was during the period of a ruthless, communist control. One evening a man or maybe a couple approached him and asked him to go with them. He said he would.

They took him on a circuitous route through the city. They seemed very cautious, very nervous. Finally, they came to a building that apparently was their destination. They went in and made their way to a certain room. The room was dark as the curtains were drawn. They turned on the light and asked him to conduct a service, a Christian service for them. The Eucharist.

Which he did. And that is the second scene.

Afterword’s, they returned him carefully to his hotel.

The events of Holy Week are one thing after another. One thing happens then that leads to another thing and that now leads to another…

Earlier Jesus was at the home of some of his friends just a short distance from Jerusalem,

And then out of the blue a woman comes into the house. She looks for Jesus then falls to her feet in front of him. She takes some ointment from a jar then anoints his feet with it. Then after she has anointed his feet with this fragrant ointment, she wipes his feet with the tresses of her own long hair. This is the third scene.

Someone in the room comments, ‘Just think of all the poor people this could have helped if she hadn’t wasted it on Jesus.’

What was she thinking?

We do not know. Nothing is said in the Scriptures – other than the act itself. She was a single woman yet she had enough money to purchase the expensive ointment. Maybe it was the money she had earned in one of the few ways a single woman could earn such money in those days. Maybe it was literally all she had saved up.

It was an act of great love and humility.

Maybe it suggested to Jesus a way for him to instruct his own disciples and friends using a similar act of love and humility.

Some years later, some centuries later, an Abbess of the Eastern church gave words to this unknown woman, words in a hymn used even to this day as part of the liturgies for Holy Week.

Following is a rough paraphrase of parts of it:

“O lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins,

Perceiving your divinity,

Takes upon herself the duty of myrrh-bearer,

With lamentations she brings you sweet smelling oils of myrrh in anticipation of your entombment.

“Woe to me, she cries!”

Receive the fountain of my tears,

O You who gather into clouds the waters of the sea,

Incline unto me, unto the sighing’s of my heart,

O You who bowed down the heavens in your [humility].

I will wash your … feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair,

Those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself in fear when she heard You walking in paradise in the twilight of the day.

As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your Judgments, who can search them out,

O, Savior of souls, my Savior!

Despise me not, I who am Your Handmaiden,

For You have mercy without measure!

[from the Hymn of Kassiani}

For various reasons we are not this evening observing the rite instituted by Jesus of foot washing. That is understandable given the times through which we are passing. Even so I must say there is probably some good value sometimes in doing something that is a little awkward, a little uncomfortable. Maybe sort of like saying a kind word to someone we would rather not say anything to. Or maybe taking a little time – or even a lot of time – to help someone who needs help even if they are somewhat gripey and cantankerous. I could give some more examples.

I suspect you could as well. Maybe He would want us all to think of some more – and then to actually do them as the situations occur.


In words I have described some scenes that might suggest what Maundy Thursday is about. Words that suggest the great humility and the great love that is at its heart.

The priest who shares the Body and Blood of our Savior in maybe uncomfortable circumstances…

The people – the ordinary people – who take the time to reverence the Body and Blood of our Savior…

And finally, the blessed woman who in great humility and love anointed the Body of our Savior…

How shall I repay Him?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciple…”




Richard Robertson