Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday

It is my suspicion that any kid who grew up attending Hopewell Presbyterian Church probably loved Holy Week more than Christmas. Or maybe that was just me? I am probably biased here, but I have not been able to find a service that could take me in, body and soul, the way the Holy Week services did where my Daddy was the pastor. 

Holy Week wasn't a week that Daddy planned to be out of town. It wasn't a week where he had other pastors ready to help him with the four services he would lead by his lonesome. He didn't dread the long hours he would spend preparing for these services while still keeping up with the daily needs of a congregation. Holy Week was magical! A week he looked forward to like a child looks forward to sound of Santa's jingle bells on the roof. Daddy came alive in a new way during this week. He believed in the power of walking alongside Jesus through the final moments His life and Resurrection. He had tasted the transformation that can come from entering into Christ's story for ourselves. The energy he received while creating that space for his congregation was tangible and exciting. I did not ever want to miss it! I miss it more than ever these days.

On Thursday evening, our congregation would gather in our old church, poised in the pews as Daddy would flit back and forth in front of the communion table making preparations for worship. Daddy, always wearing his )now) shabby white robe that his mother made him when he was ordained with a simple rope tied around his waist, stood before us in invitation. 

Daddy would tell us the story: "On this night, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and bent to his knees, washing his Disciples feet. Peter said, "Lord, you can't wash my feet! It is I who should be washing your feet!" But Jesus said to him, "Peter, if you do not let me wash your feet than you can have no part with me." Then Peter exclaimed, "Then not just my feet, Lord, but my head and my hands too!" "You have already bathed today, Peter. I am concerned with your soul not your hygiene." 

Daddy's last Easter, my sister and I washed his feet too.

With that, we would be invited to come forward. "This is a time to remember Christ washing you clean as you come forward. There will be a Deacon in each side pew if you would like to have one of them wash your feet. There will also be a foot washing station in the center aisle where you can invite someone forward to wash their feet. This could be a time of great forgiveness or blessing for people who feel that leading." 

My sister and I usually were among the first, if not the first to go forward. I always went to Daddy's station. I only wanted him to wash my feet. He'd sit me down in the Victorian chair next to the pulpit and have me stretch my foot over the basin in front of him. From the pitcher he'd pour warm water over my foot and ask me in a gently, "Is it warm enough?" It always was. Some years he would remain quiet as he washed my feet, other years he would smile at me and whisper, "fat little toes." After they were rinsed clean, he would pat them dry with a towel around his waist and send me back to the pew. 

Then we washed Momma's feet.

There were some years were there were so many people that Daddy would only wash one foot of whoever came forward. I felt a little lop-sided when that would happen and would try and sneak my other foot in just to make sure that he got them both.

From my pew, I'd like to watch everyone's faces as they went forward and how Daddy would respond to them. I would get tickled to see older ladies pull off their flats and watch Daddy wash their feet still with their stockings on. Daddy spoke to everyone with the same sweet tone that he spoke to me. 

After our feet had been washed and we had returned to our seats, Daddy would wash his hands and stand behind the communion table. 

He would help us remember the story

"After they had finished the meal, Jesus took the bread and he broke it (I was always amazed by how easily Dad broke that loaf of bread) saying, "Take eat, this my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup and said, "This is the cup of the new covenant shed for the forgiveness of many. When you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, do so in remembrance of me." 

We would come forward singing, "Let us break bread together on our knees." One by one, Daddy would break off fluffy pieces of Hopewell-homemade sour dough bread and hand it to each person coming forward. "Claire, this is Christ's body broken for you. Claire, this is Christ's blood shed for you. " He would say everyone's names and look them in the eye letting us know that these elements weren't just a ritual but a personal call to arms, a call to REMEMBER Jesus in communion. 

Returning to our seats, many would pray silently or continue singing the hymn, but I would always walk around and hug everyone I knew. I never thought much about this as a kid. I just liked speaking to everyone and thought this was the perfect time. Now-a-days, I realize that the the Spirit that moved me then is the same Spirit that informs me today that communion is a lot more than eating bread and drinking home-grown grape juice. It was gathering with people who I loved dearly who dearly loved the God we had come together to remember and worship. 

When the service was completed, we would talk with folks for another half hour, hugging, laughing, catching up, and then my sister and I would head back into the Sanctuary where Daddy would be cleaning. We both would lean on the communion table and stuff fistfuls of that delicious bread into our mouths, sometimes dipping it the chalice of grape juice, sometimes just drinking out of it. Dad invited any kids to come forward to enjoy a little extra communion.

He didn't say much in that space. He would putter about, getting ready for the Good Friday service, but I like to think he was pleased to see the appetite my sister and I had for the communion we were invited into. 

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