By the Jewish reckoning of days, in which each new day begins at sunset, tonight’s liturgy in which Christians will recall the institution of the Lord’s Supper marks the beginning of the Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days, which culminate in the Sunday of the Resurrection (i.e., The Paschal Feast or Easter Day). This evening is when Jesus gathered with his friends, not only sharing with them holy food in the blessed bread and wine but also washing their feet as an example of servanthood. According to the Gospel of John (13:34-35), after he had done this, Jesus said to them:
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 disciples, if you have love for one another.
Today is also when Queen Elizabeth II continues an a centuries-old tradition of distributing alms both to those who are needy and to those who are virtuous. It was this act of charity — in the sense of love — that provided the background for this “Thought for the Day” several years ago on BBC Radio 4 by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge:
What we see today is only a shadow of what used to be done hundreds of years ago, when the monarch would actually do what Jesus did at the Last Supper and wash the feet of a number of poor people. Back in the Middle Ages, this meant that the King was just doing what priests and bishops often did, not only on Maundy Thursday but on many other occasions.
They didn’t all do it because they were lovely humble people – some were, and some definitely weren’t – but because they accepted one great truth that needed repeating over and over again, the one big thing that Christianity had brought into the world of human imagination.
And that was — and is — the truth that power constantly needs to be reminded of what it’s for. Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves. The Bible is crystal clear that this is the standard by which the gospel of Jesus judges the powerful of this world.
You can listen to the entire 3 minute 18 second broadcast by clicking on either the link below or the audio player beneath it:
BBC Radio 4 “Thought for the Day” for April 21, 2011
Alternatively, you can read a complete transcript of the broadcast here.