I'm an unapologetic smells-and-bells worshipper; so the first time I ever attended my church's Maundy Thursday meal, I did so with the heels of my heart dragging in the sand. Ugh. This is going to be gimmicky. I don't want gimmicky on Maundy Thursday.
That was, I think, about six years ago. Thing is, I kept coming back. I came back yesterday evening, too.
Here's how we do it.
We begin our observance in the sanctuary, with a brief greeting/gathering. Then we process downstairs to our candlelit fellowship hall, where we're met by members of our worship committee who very gently and carefully wash, dry and lotion our hands. The tables, which are usually organized in long rows, are split up so that people can sit in small groups of about eight.
Our service is incorporated into a real meal. It's not a Seder; it's a real Midwestern supper, with humble no-peek stew and wholegrain flatbread and a fruit dessert. Each stage of the meal is paired with lectio divina and a liturgical action; for instance, we have an appetizer course with little slices of cocktail rye bread and spinach dip; we hear the story of Jesus identifying Judas, dipping his bread, as his betrayer, and as we take our own bread and dip we ask the others at our table, "Is it I?" -- and hear words of forgiveness and reconciliation. Before the main course is served we celebrate the Eucharist; again, we hear the Gospel story, and hear Paul's reiteration of it; our pastor consecrates the bread and wine, and then we commune one another at our own tables with our own baskets of bread and carafes of wine.
As we eat our stew, our "holy listening" turns to our listening to one another; as our pastor points out, Jesus and his disciples spent much of this evening just talking, just being with one another. At my table, which I shared with a very nice family who were some of the first people to befriend my mother and I when we started attending, and with one of my fellow lay ministers, we talked about everything from elk in Atlanta (that's Atlanta, Michigan) to what was going on in our own lives right now.
Finally, at the end of the meal, our pastor reads Jesus' High Priestly prayer -- which, he reminds us, is something that Christ even now continues to pray on our behalf as our Great High Priest: prays that we may be bound together in love; prays that we be protected from the Adversary; prays that we might take care of one another.
And then it's over. Usually the pastor will ask if anyone wants to share their experience of the evening, and usually people are open in sharing, and thoughtful in their responses.
We had a couple of people who, at the last minute, were unable to attend, so we had a few empty chairs. As I was sitting there last night, I wished that you could be with us.
Artwork: "Phoebe of Chenchrae," Dina Cormick