In the great three days that lead from Holy Week to Easter Maundy Thursday is the first, when we remember Jesus sharing a final meal with his friends and asking them to love one another as he loved them.
Wait. I’m not ready for this part of the story yet. I’m not ready for the final meal with friends. I’m not ready for the awkward intimacy of the foot washing or the mundane failure of the tired disciples to stay awake. I’m not ready for Holy Week. Not because of the practical details, mind you, people here make sure those are all taken care of. The bulletins were all printed, the music rehearsed, and the tables set for dinner a whole day early waiting empty in the sunlight for their guests the way this place waits for all of you all year long to tell this story. I’m not ready in a bigger way than that. I didn’t do good at Lent this year. The past two years when Chris asked me what I was going to do for Lent I’ve shouted something back like, “isn’t life itself enough already?” But it’s not somehow. And each year Easter comes like a wave, like the big one, and if you see it gathering on the horizon you have time to get yourself together and stand up tall and take a deep breath and wait. Or you don’t, and suddenly you’re upside down with a sinus full of seasalt. I’m not ready for this part. And maybe I never am. So much of Holy Week catches me off guard and makes me cry. It’s the kind of crying that comes when you touch something that you don’t quite have words for yet, or maybe it’s the kind of crying that comes when someone else’s words are surprisingly accurate. I cry when little kids wash the feet of strangers with absolute earnestness. I cry when the altar is bare and all the lights cut out. I cry when Jesus is distressed in the garden, when Jesus is mocked and spit on, when Jesus sees his mom. I’m a mess. But look at the other guys! There’s Jesus, clearly telling everyone at his dinner party that he’s going to die tomorrow, and there are the disciples, essentially asking, “so what’s our plan here, exactly?” There’s Jesus, asking for a few final waking moments with his three closest friends, and there they are, napping. There’s Jesus alone in prison, and there’s Peter outside saying, “I don’t know him.” In fact, one of the only people who does seem to be prepared comes before this part of the story. A woman, of course, another dinner party, per usual. Jesus saying something wise. She walks in with perfume, the kind you use on dead bodies, and just starts crying. Super awkward, my kind of people. She kneels at his feet and washes them with her hair and her tears and makes the whole house smell like an adolescent who doesn’t know how much cologne to use. Jesus is the only one unphased. The disciples squirm. But she’s ready for what’s coming. She knows. And the gift of knowing, rarely given to so many more who must endure the terrible thing, is also the gift of getting to say goodbye. How many people, this year alone, who didn’t get to say goodbye? God only knows. Maybe Jesus thinks of them, maybe Jesus mimics her, when he gets down on the floor after his last dinner and begins gingerly to hold the feet of each person who has walked with him this far. They cringe. They mince words. But ready or not, Jesus makes the round. In three days, everything will have changed. They will no longer be able to clearly follow one man who more or less stays in one place at one time. He will have become something more than that kind of earthy permanence. They will suddenly be in charge, others will look to them to lead, will watch which way their eyes are pointing when they squint to see something imperceptible a step or two ahead. But for now they are held by their friend with a love which makes their insides quiver and hurl. Love like this, he says. Are they ready? Of course not.