Today is Maundy Thursday. Apparently the Queen particularly looks forward to giving out the Maundy money each year on this day – something which she couldn’t do in the normal way this year. In the Middle Ages, English monarchs washed the feet of beggars in imitation of what Jesus did on the day before the crucifixion. This has evolved over the years to what we would have expected to happen today. So we could interpret the ceremony as a form of service by the Queen to ordinary deserving folk.
Yes, what a remarkable act of service is celebrated when in church the minister washes the feet of some members of the congregation! Even from the point of view of folk who would not call themselves Christian, Jesus’ action was amazing for his day. How many other leaders would see themselves as servants of their followers? How many other leaders would do the lowly servant’s job?
And what about service in a more general sense? The way our health workers, for example, serve those who are ill at the present time, and sometimes lay down their lives through what they do? What a Christ-like act!
Another aspect of serving people – something mentioned on Radio 4 Thought for the Day today – is the relevance of empathy. To stoop down as a servant to wash feet is to see things from the point of view of that servant.
If you are to truly serve another person you need to take the perspective of that other person – to see things from their point of view. Otherwise you are imposing your own view on them – which is unlikely to be helpful. We cannot fully empathise in most cases, but we try: by asking questions, showing a willingness to listen, if necessary physically getting down to their level (as with a wheelchair user).
On Maundy Thursday Jesus also inaugurated what we call the Eucharist or Communion. The breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup of wine. “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.” “This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.” Jesus was the servant of us all!