Primal Rituals

Maundy Thursday

The services of Holy Week are unique in the Christian year. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil take us into the story of Jesus’ life. These three services allow us to follow Jesus through the experience of his last days. We touch the reality and the experience of Jesus’ sacrifice and his resurrection. We do this so that we can grow more like Christ. We strive to know the mind of Christ and to be transformed to be more and more like Christ. The payoff, the reward, if you will, is that we also enter more and more deeply into the reality of the resurrection. We are moving towards resurrection, new life, a transformed life in which we know God’s love directly and intimately.

The service of Maundy Thursday gives us the PRIMAL RITUALS of a life in Christ. Primal means “1. Being first in time; original. 2. Of first importance; primary.” Foot washing and Eucharist are the primal rituals of life in Christ. You could also say that foot washing and Eucharist are primal rituals of resurrection.

Jesus knew what was coming. Everything he did in those last days was intentional. Jesus wanted and intended to make himself available for all of us even after his death. He was preparing us to understand and participate in resurrection – in his life after dying and rising again.

Our goal in these next three services is to follow Jesus. We are striving to know Jesus more intimately. We want to share in his experience of God as Father. We want to know his mind, share in his questions and his wonder. We want to know what it means to be sons and daughters of the Father.

The value of primal rituals is that they put us right into the experience of Jesus and the disciples. We will follow Christ and the disciples by engaging in the same rituals that they used and that will force us to confront the same feelings and doubts and fears that they did.

Foot washing requires that we humble ourselves and serve one another. Humility is a basic requirement of the kind of life that Jesus wants for us. Humility allows us to enter into relationship with one another and with God with open hearts. Humility allows us to receive God’s love and to turn and give that love away.

Humility is not easy though. There is an element of shame that we have to confront. We have to be willing to embarrass our selves, in a way. We have to be willing to let go of pride. This is not an easy thing that we do. I was talking to another priest about Maundy Thursday and he said, “Foot washing never caught on at our congregation.” I was stunned. I should hope not. Foot washing is supposed to be difficult, embarrassing and humbling.

We humble ourselves because that is what Jesus told us to do so that we could participate in his mission. We are called to share in his son-ship and grow ever more like him. Foot washing prepares us to humbly accept the gift of adoption as God’s daughters and sons.

Eucharist is the reality of the Body of Christ gathered at the Father’s table. This is literally the family meal for the adopted daughters and sons of God. We gather to be that – God’s family. Jesus gave his body and his life, metaphorically and literally, so that we could do this. What a gracious symbol: bread and wine. What a generous ritual: take, eat.

So, foot washing prepares us to participate in Eucharist and Eucharist is the reality of being sons and daughters of the Father.

Foot washing is the incarnate sign of the new commandment.

“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.” (John 13:34-35)

Eucharist is the incarnate sign of our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. When we participate in the foot washing and Eucharist of Maundy Thursday we take on the mind of Christ and the heart of Christ as we receive and become the body and blood of Christ. This is a process of incarnation. This is the reality of being transformed. We are being formed to be expressions of God’s Spirit of Love.

These primal rituals open the possibility to experience the joy of living in God’s love. We are on our way to resurrection.

I invite you to participate and be shaped by the foot washing – Have the heart and mind of Christ.

I invite you to share in the Eucharist – Be the sons and daughters of the Father.


The Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline

April 21, 2011

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