Holy Thursday is traditionally when most celebrate foot washing and communion, and this year I’m going to add a contextual spin on things thanks to the work of Beatrice Bruteau in The Holy Thursday Revolution.
I will start the night by talking about how our world tends to think in terms of a “domination paradigm,” in which we are taught that we live in a world of scarcity, that we have to compete or do violence to ourselves, each other, and the planet to “get ahead.” This world view is all about having power-over. The domination paradigm teaches us that only the people at the top of the pyramid of matter, and that the people and bodies at the bottom of the pyramid don’t matter. I know this sounds like a difficult concept, but I think kids are exposed to enough stories of empire and kingdoms and subversion to get the concept…even if its just loosely.
We will talk about how in Jesus’ time and context the Roman empire was oppressing the Jewish people, and there were many people suffering, starving, and unable to provide for their families. Jesus oriented his whole life to move toward the margins, toward the people who were suffering, the people that he believed recognized and were closer to the Kingdom of God than the people “at the top”.
But even when people followed him they wanted to put Jesus “at the top”—they wanted him to become the new king…literally—because that “structuring” is how we tend to order things. We like Power-over structures, because they make us feel like things are in control.
(To illustrate this you may want to grab some blocks and build a pyramid. Using lego figures or stuffed animals works too!)
But Jesus flipped the domination paradigm on its head. Jesus started a revolution: When he washed his disciples feet he was saying: there’s another way to structure our relationships, a way that’s not about power-over, but power-with. I’m not “at the top”: I’m in you, and you are in me. God isn’t “at the top”, we are in God, and God is in us. I won’t call you servants, I call you friends.
We are in this together.
Jesus introduces us to the “Communion Paradigm”: a way of life in which success isn’t defined individually but collectively. And the first step is to remember the way in which love re-orders our relationships to move away from pyramids of power, and into circles of communion.
(Here you can invite the kids to knock down the pyramid of blocks/lego dudes/stuffed animals. And then together set them up in a circle to illustrate the “communion paradigm.”)
We will read the scripture passage in John 13:1-17, describing the moment when Jesus washed his disciples feet. (About scripture reading: I am not afraid to take liberties here. I often add in the presence of women disciples, change Jesus’ prayers to include a less masculine description of God, make the language more accessible, etc. Call me a heretic but I don’t think God minds one bit. The male dominant system that determined which narratives, stories and language made it into the canon probably minds, but God doesn’t.)
We follow this with reading the vine and branches passage from, John 15:1-17. I have plenty of plants in the house, some which are more “viney” and will probably point to it so that we can have the visual in our minds of what it means to remain in love and in each other.
I have a chant I wrote ages ago on the vine and the branches, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you”. We will sing a few rounds of that.
Then, I lay out the bowl with warm water, and—shocker—red roses. We break up some of the rose petals into the water, and lay out a towel. We each take turns being the foot washer, washing the other’s feet saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Alternative phrases could be, “Christ in me serves the Christ in you,” or “ I let go of power-over, I desire to live in power-with.”
I’ve been to plenty of foot washing ceremonies at churches over the years, and I’m telling you: nothing comes close to the intimacy and vulnerability of doing it with your kids. As everyone has a chance to wash everyone else’s feet, it’s a good reminder of what a sacred task this parenting thing is…and the closer-to-true orientation toward our role in it: temporary custodians who get to serve these little creatures and souls into their own becoming.
After we wash each other’s feet, we pause to imaginally bring into our circle whoever is often picked on in our class, whoever is struggling/suffering in our lives and those that are most excluded and oppressed in our world…pouring the water out and saying the words for them as well.
I will talk to the kids about how Jesus used foot washing, and the vine/branches, to illustrate his point that we are not separate from each other, over-and-below each other, we are in one another…that there is another way to understand who we are and our relationships beyond the domination paradigm.
The last supper serves as the ultimate illustration of that, so we will transition to that next.
At the CAC we celebrate the Iona liturgy for the Eucharist, which is stunningly beautiful as it is simple. One of my favorite components is the opening invitation, which I will have Søren read tonight:
The table of bread and wine is now to be made ready.
It is the table of company with Jesus,
and all who love him.
It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world,
with whom Jesus identified himself.
It is the table of communion with the earth,
in which Christ became incarnate.
So come to this table,
you who have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a while;
you who have tried to follow Jesus,
and you who have failed;
It is Christ who invites us to meet Christ here.
We will read Matthew 26:26-30, and then pass wafers/crackers and wine around saying, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you.”
To close, we will return to the vine chant,
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you.”
A note in closing:
Maybe one of the reasons why we love the rituals for this week so much, is because I love them and the kids pick up on it. I feel no need to go through the motions for the sake of appeasing any guilt about doing something “religious”! I genuinely tear up and am moved by these ideas. Holy Thursday is an opportunity to really focus on the radical nature of Jesus’ life and love, the absolute social and spiritual revolution it represents…and it really allows us to see how far we have strayed from that example, choosing instead to institutionalize and collude with empire…substituting the old systems of purity and election with new systems of purity and election, rather than living lives of radical courage, inclusivity and love as he did.
Holy Thursday is a great opportunity to set up the contextual and political implications of Jesus’ non-violent message. Any disruption was threatening to the system and the empire feared rebellion. This makes for a very different orientation to how we talk about the crucifixion on Friday. Its not about sacrificial atonement. As Richard likes to say, its about at-one-ment: it is the implications of radical life of love and non-violent resistance taken to its natural conclusions…an ushering in of a new paradigm (communion aka “ the kingdom of God”) in which love re-orders our reality in such a way that all are welcome, included, and can find healing.
Of course the “system” resists that and wants to suppress it! Jesus was killed for being a non-violent threat to the order of domination. The invitation to live and bring “the kingdom” is to walk a path that very well may cost us everything! But just as Mary broke a jar to pour out the perfume of anointing, so we too can trust that the fragrant essence of love is infinitely stronger than death….our theme for tomorrow’s rituals.
Props needed for tonight:
A large bowl or basin (for foot washing)
More roses (duh, red).
Some type of wafer and grape juice or wine (for communion).
Props needed for tomorrow:
Some kind of prop cross: made out of cardboard or sticks
Scissors and tape
Blessings on your Maundy Thursday, and celebrating the radical revolution of Christic communion with you…