Last year, between the two Maundy Thursday services at St. John’s, I took the metro over to Christ Church, Capitol Hill. I met my wife, son, and father inside on a drizzly afternoon. We were there for a Family Maundy Thursday service. The space and people gathered were new to me. I had met the clergy before, but didn’t really know what to expect. What unfolded over the next 40 or so minutes, though, opened my heart.
We listened to the story from John’s gospel about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Then kids and caregivers were invited to wash one another’s feet. Parents washed the feet of their children. Children washed their parents’ and siblings’ feet. Some people were nervous, while others were eager. Water was spilled. We laughed. It was holy.
Then we gathered around a small altar to share in the Eucharist and remember Jesus’ last meal with his friends. It was intimate and poignant. Finally, after we closed with prayers and a blessing, children were invited to help clear the altar. In my head, I immediately thought, “This could go poorly,” knowing my very wobbly 15-month-old should not go anywhere near the candles. My hesitation eased as I saw kids come forward quietly to carry out items one by one. They took on their roles with reverence and responsibility. We ended with an empty table, and I left with my heart filled, ready to face Good Friday.
This was the inspiration for our first Family Maundy Thursday service at St. John’s. It will take place tonight at 5 p.m. in the sanctuary. While it is geared toward children and families, all are welcome. We will hear a story, wash one another’s feet, share Communion, and strip the altar. Will it go smoothly? Maybe. Will it be messy? Probably, a little. Will God be praised? Most certainly.
However you observe this day, remember Jesus’ “mandatum” or mandate, which is at the core of our observance: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” [John 13:34]
The Rev. Sarah Akes-Cardwell, Associate for Children & Family Ministries
Links to the appointed readings and prayer for today: