Maundy Thursday - AKA Uncomfortable and Messy Thursday
So I had one of those phone calls the other night with one of my daughters in which I was trying to be loving and kind and supportive and it seemed that perhaps that was not coming across as much as I hoped.
Like possibly not at all. Just judging from her reaction.
Which, to be clear, was not good.
I got off the phone feeling…I think the official term for it is: like shit.
This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened between us. I sincerely doubt it will be the last. Because we’re human beings. And giving and receiving love is much harder than it looks.
No matter how much you love each other.
And it’s not necessarily because one of the people is doing something “wrong.” Though it would be so much simpler if that were true.
For example, I used to come home from work at night and as my way of trying to connect with my husband Gary I’d say, “So what did you do today?” Because I wanted to hear about his day, wanted to know what he’d seen and done and felt so I’d feel closer to him.
Sure, I kind of noticed that every time I asked that question he’d stiffen up, pull back a little. And either change the subject or answer begrudgingly. But, even though his response or non-response confused and hurt me, I kept asking. Maybe not every night, but at least a couple times a week. And he’d always respond the same way. This went on for a while…ok, 20 YEARS give or take. Until finally one day I blew up and asked why he was being such an a-hole when I was asking such a perfectly loving friggin question.
We had a discussion. A heated one. In which he finally told me (maybe finally understood himself) that every time I asked that question he felt like I was asking for an accounting of his day…in order to decide whether or not he’d done enough. And he never felt like he’d done enough.
And then there was the Valentine’s Day Gary decided to give me roses, a lot of roses, to make up for the fact that he might have kind of blown it on the gifting front for my birthday just a month before. Except instead of simply sending them all at once, he had a delivery guy come to our door - once an hour - with one more rose. Gary saw it as a hugely romantic gesture. I saw it increasingly as the day dragged on, as a kind of passive aggressive F-U. Didn’t like what I did on your birthday? Well, I’ll show you. I became angrier and angrier every time that doorbell rang. Irrationally, crazily angry. So that by the time Gary came home, expecting to find me doe-eyed, swooning and desperate to fall into his arms, I was a raging lunatic.
Of course, I wondered later if maybe the real reason I got so angry was because it was too much…so much love all at once it made me sick, like how a person who’s been dying of thirst in a desert can’t drink too much water too fast because their body can’t take it in. It’s such a shock to the system.
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. Also called Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, as well as Uncomfortable and Messy Thursday.
To be fair, I think I’m the only one who calls it that last one. But I’m hoping it catches on.
During Holy Week, this is the day Christians commemorate when Jesus shared a Last Supper with his disciples, washed their feet and commanded them to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, meaning "new commandment."
Because of this, Maundy Thursday services often have both foot-washing and communion on the agenda. And perhaps, not surprisingly, this tends to be the least attended event of Holy Week. I blame the foot-washing.
At our church, we’ve tried to incorporate foot-washing without making it obligatory…and off-putting. There are usually three hand-washing stations set up around the room and just one for foot-washing…just in case anyone is actually interested. Most people are not.
Because, truthfully, it just feels weird and uncomfortable and messy and vulnerable to have someone you chat with at the church coffee hour take your naked and exposed feet into their hands, wash them with soap and water, see them as they really are, cracked, misshapen, calloused, bunioned, possibly even stinky, and treat them with great tenderness and compassion and love.
It made the disciples uncomfortable and frankly kind of pissy when Jesus did it too.
And maybe that was the point.
When Jesus said “love one another as I have loved you,” he didn’t say it in the middle of a dewy Disney-esque moment when love was easy and birds were singing and everyone was feeling fine and running in slow motion through fields of flowers. He said it when people were having a very difficult time taking in his love because it didn’t fit their picture of what it should look like. Or because having love offered to them in this particular way might have stepped into some deep gopher-hole of pain and shame inside them.
I also suspect this not-so-beatific moment was one in which Jesus was maybe even feeling a tiny bit hurt because they couldn’t take it in.
Yeah, I don’t know anything about that kind of thing.
But perhaps Jesus chose that moment to make his big statement about how we needed to love one another… this awkward, non-feel-good moment… because that’s what it actually means to love. Maybe he wanted us to know that love was going to be hard to take in, more often than not. And it was going to hurt like a mother-f-er when we were desperately trying to show our love and the person on the receiving end was unable to receive it, and we were going to want to say “What’s the point?” and walk out the door and not bother ever again. He wanted us to be brave and know that we shouldn’t give up, no matter how hard it is, how much it hurts sometimes, because, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, love is important, it’s why we’re on this planet and it’s worth it.
I don’t know if I’ll go all the way tomorrow night, get all naked with my feet, take off my socks and shoes, dip my toes in the water, and let them be loved.
But I agree with what William Blake said, “We are here to learn to endure the beams of love.” And I hope I have the courage to.