Jenny Tisi offers Maundy Thursday reflections on “A Teachable Moment”
When I was a teen, I attended at Dutch Reformed Church. Maundy Thursday service was one of my favorite services. I sang in the choir and we did several beautiful anthems throughout the candlelit service. On the chancel, there was a large table with the elders surrounding it, with their bibles in hand. Each elder had a candle in front of them on the table. After each one would read part of the passion story, they would blow out their candle. When it came down to the last reading, the verse was read and only 1 candle remained, which was the light of Christ. From the balcony in the church, our lead bass would sing “Were You There” a cappella. There was never a dry eye in the church. After the solo, we all left in silence.
When I came to All Saints, Maundy Thursday was a completely different experience. I was never taught about the whole meaning of the word “Maundy” until I came here. I learned that Maundy came from the Latin word “Mandatum”, which means, “mandate” or “commandment.” At the last Supper, Jesus gave his disciples a mandate: a new commandment, which was to “Love on another as I have loved you.”
I also learned that during this service, the Trouveres would be the only choir offering music. I was also told that there would be foot washing. I had no idea why. I learned that this tradition was following the example of Jesus, who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, just as servants would wash the feet of those entering a home during Jesus’ lifetime. It was a beautiful ritual and although this service was completely different than what I had experienced as a teen, it was equally beautiful and meaningful.
At that service, I noticed that barely any of our choristers got their feet washed. I talked to them about it the following week and they told me that the idea of people touching their feet or people touching theirs was really uncomfortable. I decided that the next year, I would make this a teachable moment. James Walker decided to join us that next year for the lesson. What happened during that lesson was more than we could have ever expected.
Our custodial staff set up buckets for us on the chancel and I took the Trouveres in for the lesson. We explained to them the basic meaning behind Maundy Thursday and why we wash each other’s feet. We told them that they didn’t need to give a thorough washing, as though they were getting a pedicure. We told them that you didn’t even have to touch the other person’s feet and could simply slowly pour the warm water over the person’s feet and dry them with a towel. That seemed less threatening to them. I asked if two choristers would show us how it was done.
Two girls raised their hands. One sat in the chair and one sat by the bowl. At that very magical moment, James and I nearly lost our breath. The girl at the bowl was a white girl. The girl in the chair was a black girl. As the white girl started to pour the water over the feet of the black girl, she had a big smile on her face. They looked at each other and giggled. I asked the choristers if they understood what was happening and why it was so significant.
One chorister said, “A white girl washing the feet of a black girl.” James and I talked about how Jesus set an example of how we are all called to serve. In their words, “Taking on the role of a servant, no matter your skin color or any other difference, made us all equal.” Jesus showed us this very thing. It was the most beautiful moment and one of my fondest memories working with the Trouveres. I only wished that I had taken a picture of that very moment, and yet, the image is permanently engrained in my memory. They totally got it just by a chance experience of two random girls raising their hands and randomly choosing their roles for that teaching moment.
More choristers have gotten up to wash feet since that lesson. There is such a greater understanding of this tradition.
Do you get your feet washed? Are you uncomfortable with it? I think during these current times, I cannot think of a time where we need the symbolic tradition of Maundy Thursday. To express love by being a servant. To show equality. I hope that you come and join us for what is my favorite service of the year.
During the Forty Days of Lent, we will offer daily meditations from All Saints Church. Today’s is written by Jenny Tisi, Director of Children’s and Youth Music.