May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. ~St. Francis of Assisi
Maundy Thursday is a day of letting go while still holding on.
If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love, I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross. I have only a tenuous grip on this world, utterly dependent on the Lord taking care of me.
This day, I am reminded of a few basics: No arguing over who is best. No hiding my dirty feet. No holding back on the most precious of gifts. No falling asleep. No selling out. No turning and running away. No covering my face in denial. No looking back. No clinging to the comforts of the world.
But of course I fail again and again. My heart resists leaving behind what I know.
Plucked from the crowd, I must grasp and carry His load (which is, of course, my load) alongside Him. Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it. Which it does — requiring no nails.
The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes. The food of His body nurtures my soul. From that soul and ashes rises new life. Love of His love of our love.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s Grandeur”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Luke 13:34
…for him to see me mended, I must see him torn… ~Luci Shawfrom “Mary’s Song”
Today marks the crushing of Christ in the Garden of the Oil Press, Gethsemane.
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” –a place of olive trees treasured for the fine oil delivered from their fruit. And so, on this Thursday night, the pressure is turned up high on the disciples, not just on Jesus.
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch alongside the Master, to be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation of the weakened flesh thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart.
Like them, I am easily lulled by complacency, by my over-indulged satiety for material comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by my expectation that being called a follower of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough. I fail the pressure test as well.
I fall asleep through His anguish. I dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood. I might even deny I know Him when pressed hard.
Yet, the moment of betrayal becomes the moment He is glorified, thereby God is glorified.
Crushed, bleeding, poured out over the world — from wings that brood and cover us — He becomes the sacrifice that anoints us.
Incredibly, indeed miraculously, He loves us, bent as we are, anyway.
VERSE 1 Let us praise Jesus, the Washer of Feet; Jesus, the Lordly who gave up his Seat; Jesus, the Maker of all that there is; Jesus, the Servant to all who are his.
REFRAIN We praise Jesus We praise Jesus
VERSE 2 Let us praise Jesus, the Blesser of Bread; Jesus, the Off’ring who suffered and bled; Jesus, the Royal who knelt in the dust; Jesus, the Priest in whose Blessing we trust.
VERSE 3 Let us praise Jesus, the Shepherd alone; Jesus, the Lover who gathers His own; Jesus, the Wounded who died for us all; Jesus, the Christ on whose goodness we call.
VERSE 4 Let us praise Jesus, the Savior adored; Jesus, the Sonnet of praise to our Lord; Jesus, the Gracious whose own life He gave; Jesus, the Lowly who came down to save.
God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage.
Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory. ~Augustine of Hippo
The broken alabaster of your heart Revealed to Him alone a hidden door, Into a garden where the fountain sealed, Could flow at last for him in healing tears… ~Malcolm Guite from “Mary Magdelene: A Sonnet”
She has done what she could… ~Mark 14:8
Those final few days of His life may have been like this: the sky oppressive with storm clouds, the shouldered burden too painful, His soul weighed down, discouraged, disheartened. Each step brought Him closer to a desperate loneliness borne of betrayal and rejection.
But the end of that dark walk was just the beginning of a journey into new covenant:
He is anointed from the broken jar, His aching joints covered in perfume by one who believes and wants to help bear His burden.
Instead of rain, the clouds bear light, flooding the pathway so we too can come together to lift the load. Instead of loneliness, now arises a community like no other. Instead of stillness, there is declaration of His glory to the heavens. Instead of discouragement, He embodies hope for all hearts.
His promise fulfilled spills over our path, our feet, our heads. We too are drenched in gratitude, flooded with grace.
Come out of sadness From wherever you’ve been Come broken hearted Let rescue begin Come find your mercy Oh sinner come kneel Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t heal Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t healSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far So lay down your hurt Lay down your heart Come as you areThere’s hope for the hopeless And all those who’ve strayed Come sit at the table Come taste the grace There’s rest for the weary Rest that endures Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t cureSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far Lay down your hurt lay down your heart Come as you are Come as you are Fall in his arms Come as you are There’s joy for the morning Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t heal Earth has no sorrow That heaven can’t healSo lay down your burdens Lay down your shame All who are broken Lift up your face Oh wanderer come home You’re not too far So lay down your hurt Lay down your heart Come as you are Come as you are Come as you are Come as you are ~David Crowder
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:8-9
We naturally wonder if our actions on this earth are pleasing to God, though we understand our faith, rather than good works we do, is the key to salvation. Jesus’ response to Mary of Bethany’s anointing of His feet the day before He enters Jerusalem is provocative on a number of levels. However, her story parallels the passion of this Passion week:
Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality. She acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial. Mary believes what His disciples refuse to hear.
Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love for the Father.
Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.
Jesus, on the cross, shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him.
Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.
Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is no higher price to pay.
Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows He is deeply moved by her action.
Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved, and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous, with gratitude.
Jesus tells Mary of Bethany (and us), in response to the disciples’ rebukes, that it is her action that will be told and remembered. She did what she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon confront. She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply, sacrificially–and He is so grateful that He Himself washes the feet of His disciples a few days later in a personal act of devotion and servanthood.
And today we remember this Mary as the harbinger of His suffering and death, just as He said we would.
I can see, through the rifts of the apple-boughs, The delicate blue of the sky, And the changing clouds with their marvellous tints That drift so lazily by. And strange, sweet thoughts sing through my brain, And Heaven, it seemeth near; Oh, is it not a rare, sweet time, The blossoming time of the year?
~Horatio Alger, Jr. from “Apple Blossoms”
You won’t remember it—the apple orchard We wandered through one April afternoon, Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.
A city boy, I’d never seen a grove Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.
A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows Arching above us. We walked the aisle, Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral. ~Dana Gioia from “The Apple Orchard”
The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.
Clusters of pink tinged blossoms
sway in response to my mower’s pass,
apple buds bulge on ancient branches
in promise of fruit
stroked by the honeybees’ tickling legs.
Bowing low beneath the swollen blooms,
caught by snagging branches
that shower from hidden raindrop reservoirs
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups,
my face is anointed in perfumed apple tears.