Today is Maundy Thursday. When I was growing up, we simply called it “Holy Thursday.” I used to look forward to the day, because I really liked the church service. It was one in which a whole lot seemed to be going on, what with foot washing and everything. As part of the Holy Thursday service the priest would select twelve people and then he and a number of attendants–altar boys and such–would wash and dry their feet in commemoration of Jesus taking this particular action with his 12 closest followers during “The Last Supper.”I don’t know why I found it so enthralling, but as a youngster I was fascinated by this ceremony.
Some years during Holy Week, my mom would prepare a special meal of which each dish and course had religious, historical, symbolic meanings. Something about the whole thing resonated with my spiritual sensibilities. You see, back then I wanted to be a priest, so I was very attentive to such things. It came as a deep disappointment when I was told that girls could not become priests. I’m not sure I ever fully got over that, but I somehow managed to moved on.
The theme of the Holy Thursday service seemed to be about that very thing–service. Jesus demonstrated through his actions the importance of serving one another, and of someone as exalted as he was to humble himself to wash the feet of the people who had served him in various capacities throughout his time of ministry. I’m sure they were more than a bit taken aback at this, but as with so many things, Jesus took it in stride and also took the opportunity to teach/remind them about serving one another and serving others.
When the bottom seemed to fall out of my life a few years ago and I was reeling from suffering a series of setbacks, one of the most significant steps I took to keep myself from plummeting into depression and despair was to begin volunteering at my local food pantry. I did a variety of tasks from packing up bags of fruits and vegetables, sorting and wrapping up donated loaves of bread, and helping assemble a variety of items into grocery bags. The best part of the day was distributing the two to three bags of groceries to the people who came to the pantry. I got to interact with the clients, helping carry the bags to the vehicles for some of the older or less able-bodied clients, and to work with a half-dozen or so dedicated volunteers who came together each Wednesday. We were comrades if not friends, united in our mission to serve. It kept me grounded and sane and was one of the single most important experiences in my life.
I volunteered at the pantry for nearly 18 months as I searched for paid employment, and while the work I now do to earn a living is in its way serving others, it is much more indirect and the impact is not as immediate as when you hand two bags of groceries to a family in need. But, it is service nonetheless. Service takes many forms and I’d wager that many of us have engaged in serving others without even realizing we were doing it. How much more powerful is it when we do it on purpose.
Often throughout the course of a week I’ll ask myself, “what have you done today to _______?” It might include: “to make the world a better place,” “to be kind to, reach out to, help another person,” “to further the cause of peace, justice, and love in the world,” etc. It’s a good exercise to engage in as it reminds me that I am on the planet, in part at least, to be in service to the beings around me. Jesus washed the feet of the people who served him. What am I willing and able to do in service to others? That is a question worth pondering as I wind down these 40 days.