Friday, April 10, 2009

maundy thursday

I attended a Maundy Thursday service last night at the Episcopal Church in Santa Clarita. The vicar of the church, Rev. Lynn Jay, whom I know from the interfaith council, sat in on a Sunday service at my church a few weeks ago, and because I don't often have Sundays free I took the opportunity of a mid-week evening service to repay my respects.

For Maundy Thursday the ritual includes foot washing. After reading the passage from John 13, where Jesus washes the disciple's feet, three of the Priest's came down off the chancel and sitting on little blue children's chairs and with large basins of water and plastic pitchers and clean white towels, washed the feet of the congregation. I removed my shoes in my pew when it was my turn to join the line. First I placed my feet in the basin and then the priest, Dick Bellis, who I also know from the interfaith council, washed my feet, and then dried them one by one, and then I returned to my seat. I had expected that we would wash each other's feet, that I would wash the person behind me and so on, but that wasn't the case. The ritual was sweet, and beautiful. I felt honored. Dick said "God bless you." when he finished, and I felt it.

Later in the service there was communion. I participated. I took the host from Dick, and the cup from a woman priest who I didn't know. The woman at the rail next to me held the host in her hand until the second priest came with the cup and then the priest took the host and dipped it in the cup and then placed it in the woman's mouth. I simply ate the host as soon as it was given to me, and then sipped from the cup when it was offered.

And then began a most remarkable and moving ritual of stripping the altar, or really all of the church of all its decorations. Still another priest read responsively with the congregation Psalm 22, the Psalm that includes Jesus' question from the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" And while we read the Priests and service leaders dismantled the church around us. First they extinguished all the candles. Then the removed their own outer vestments, and then every cloth and every banner. They removed the etchings on the walls that marked the stations of the cross. The carried the Bibles and hymnals out of the sanctuary. Then the unplugged the microphones and so on. At one point someone brought out a basin of water and a cloth to Rev. Jay and she washed the now bare altar table, and then the basin and cloth were also taken out of the sanctuary.

Finally we finished our reading in the now bare church and then the organist touched a key on her instrument that filled the sanctuary with the sound of thunder. Someone else flicked the lights on and off to make lighting effects. And then the Priests toppled all the furniture on the chancel, ending with the altar itself overturned. And then with no more words or dismissal the service was over and feeling broken and destitute, and "forsaken" the congregation crept out of the sanctuary. No coffee hour, no greetings and hugs. I didn't feel it was appropriate to wait and say goodbye to Rev. Jay, although I will thank her later. So I got in my car, and drove home under the full moon of Holy Week.

No comments: