Throw the towel in? This might be a strange title for a reflection about the day we know as Maundy Thursday. So what is this day all about anyway? In England and Wales, we may know it as the day the Queen hands out ‘Maundy money’ equivalent in pence to the number of years she has lived. Apparently it is not important enough to be a bank holiday, but is still a day that recalls events significant for the Christian faith.
It is the day the Church remembers the Last Supper that Jesus had with his friends, a meal that is recounted every time Holy Communion is celebrated. It is the day the Church remembers Jesus washing the feet of friends—and some Christians still practice this today.
It also remembers the night Jesus and his friends went to the Mount of Olives to pray; the night Jesus is betrayed by one of his own friends, Judas; the night Jesus is arrested by the authorities; and, the night even his best friend, Peter, denies knowing him.
On this night most of all, Jesus is a man alone.
The friends whose feet he had just washed betrayed and denied him.
Rejected by his countrymen, accused of crimes he did not commit.
Blindfolded, mocked and beaten by the men sent to arrest him.
Feeling, at times, even abandoned by God.
Jesus is all alone, and we can certainly see why he might think everything and everyone one is against him. And for many of us right now, this COVID-19 situation must feel the same.
There is a huge amount of uncertainty and worry.
People are losing their jobs.
Businesses are collapsing, from high street giants to small family businesses.
People are not able to visit family and friends or do their regular volunteering.
There are worries our entire economy may not survive this crisis. Our savings decimated.
Worst of all, people have lost their loved ones.
There is a knowledge that things will never quite be the same again.
And we would be forgiven for thinking we too are helpless. There is nothing we can do about this. And indeed certainly it is not our fault.
So how do we respond to this situation? What does this story of the night before Jesus’s death on a cross have to say to us? What can we learn from Jesus’ response?
Well, Jesus remains a man who seems to be in control, and his emotions are under control. When everything is seemingly against him, we believe he is actually the only one in control of events, shaping what is to come. He prays earnestly ('not my will but yours be done') and then goes quietly with those sent to arrest him. Later, in John 18:19-23, we read:
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’
Earlier on that same evening, just after Jesus has washed and towelled dry the feet of his friends, he tells them, in John 13:14–17:
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
So, when things seemingly out of our control are against us, is it too much to suggest that we should try to be like Christ was that night? Should we throw the towel in? Or stay calm and persevere as best we can, in the knowledge that God is in control? At this time of crisis, we know who to rely on. We live beneath his shadow and in the cloud of His protecting love, as Charles Wesley puts it in the hymn below. And we are reminded in Ephesians 5:1-2:
Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Captain of Israel's host, and guide
of all who seek the land above,
beneath your shadow we abide,
the cloud of your protecting love;
our strength, your grace; our rule, your word:
our end, the glory of the Lord.
By your unerring Spirit led,
we shall not in the desert stray;
we shall not full direction need,
nor miss our providential way;
as far from danger as from fear
while love, almighty love, is near.
Charles Wesley (Singing the Faith 459)
Here is that hymn, sung by the Ghana Young Chorale:
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.