Maundy Thursday is the day of Holy Week where the story of the last supper is read. Most churches offer communion to church-goers on this day, along with a short service. Some have foot washings, as an act of love for one another, and to model how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.
I don’t know that Ada Chapel has ever observed Maundy Thursday. I have never actually observed it before myself. It’s certainly not something that a Quaker meeting would typically do. But, this is a strange Holy Week. Holy Week is typically a time for community, and for spending time together in the awe and presence of God. Offering more opportunities for online worship doesn’t exactly make up for that, but if we are diligent in feeding our souls, it can help us to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy during trying times. So, if your soul needs to be fed, here’s a Quaker attempt at a Maundy Thursday worship service.
El Shaddai, by Amy Grant
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
In Remembrance of Me, by Cheri Keaggy
Some have been called to be among His twelve disciples. Some—mostly wealthy women—have been called to finance His ministry. Some have been called to follow Him across the countryside and to convince others to follow Him, too. Ever since Jesus popped up onto the scene, hundreds of people across Palestine have been empowered and called to do these big, important things in the context of His ministry. Everyone—it seems—except for you. What you have been called to do is perhaps the most mundane thing ever—to find Jesus and to anoint Him with nard.
Your husband had nearly had a cow when you told him. That nard was expensive, after all. He had scrimped and saved for years, and purchased it to save back for the day that one of you died. That way, your bodies could be properly prepared for burial at no cost to your children. He was not about to let you take it and use it on a man who you didn’t even know and who was still alive at that—regardless of whether He was the Messiah or not. He said that He wouldn’t give that nard to the emperor himself.
But you didn’t back down. You insisted that God had asked you to do this. You told him that you had experienced some doubts, too, when you first heard the call. You had never heard Jesus preach or teach in person, but what you had heard of His Good News from others had completely changed your life. The Kingdom of God was here! Salvation was imminent. The world was finally on the verge of being made right again. God had delivered, as He always does. And that message inspired you. It made you want to do something of worth for the advancement of the Kingdom, as others were. So, when God finally spoke, you were highly disappointed. What would using a burial ointment on Jesus do, in the long run? How would that make a difference? How would that help anybody? But this is the task that God has set before you. You have asked Him 1000 times if you heard Him correctly, and He has told you yes. And it’s important to be faithful to God in all things—even the little ones.
Your husband’s face had softened when you told him that part. He’s a practical man—not a cruel or overbearing one. His faith is just as important to him as yours is to you. He wants you to be faithful to God—to the Creator of heaven and earth. But he also wants you to be sensible, and to be cautious. So, he made a few more reasonable objections. Realistically, how is this going to work? How would you go about finding Jesus? It’s not exactly the best idea to wander around with a heavy alabaster jar of nard until you just happen to run into Him. Not to mention that you’ve never actually seen Jesus in person before. How will you know that it’s really Him when you find Him? Plus, that nard is worth a lot of money. And people can always use more money. What if someone robs you and kills you?
But you just smiled, patted your husband’s shoulder, and told him that you trust God to be faithful when His people are faithful. You assured him that the same God who made a way for your ancestors to cross the Red Sea so long ago would make a way for you. And this is a far less difficult task than that was. With that, he relented, and he gave you his blessing to take the nard and to do what God had called you to do. So, here you are, standing in the home of Simon the Leper with the jar of nard—where you had heard rumors that Jesus would be tonight—and you are starting to think that maybe you hadn’t thought this completely through.
You hadn’t been prepared for so many people to be here. You knew that Jesus was popular. You knew that He had amassed a large group of followers. That’s how you—a regular, lower-class woman in Bethany had managed to hear about the Messiah from Galilee in the first place. But seeing as how Jesus had chosen to have dinner at a ritually unclean and contagious man’s home—you didn’t think it would be a big to-do. Jesus and Simon would be there, of course, and maybe the twelve disciples—but that would be it. You hadn’t expected to walk into a full room—interrupting the fellowship and the conversation—and to suddenly find yourself being stared down by a group of men. You have never been good in large groups. You hate talking in front of people.
Every single eye is on you. Gawking. Looking at your huge jar. Trying to figure out who the heck you are, and what the heck you’re doing there. You can feel yourself growing red with embarrassment. If your husband was here—he knows how shy and nervous you get, and always has your back—he would tell everyone your name. He would ask which person is Jesus. He would explain that God has asked you to anoint Jesus with nard, and that you are here to faithfully see that through. But he isn’t here, and you can’t seem to get your tongue to work. Every time you try to speak, you end up just stammering like some kind of idiot.
One man leans over to his neighbor and starts whispering. His neighbor snorts and laughs. Others start following suit. Some are even starting to point. “Run, run!”, your inner voice tells you. You did your best. You tried to be faithful. Surely, God will be okay with that. You can get out here with nothing lost. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see this people ever again. Then, you take notice one particular man. One with kind eyes—eyes that aren’t judging and scrutinizing. One who isn’t gossiping and pointing. And in that moment, you just know. You know that this is Jesus. This is the man who you have come to anoint. The way that he is looking at you is comforting somehow. Like a calm in the storm. So, you take a deep breath, and before you completely lose your nerve—you rush over to Jesus, crack open the alabaster jar, and let the nard pour out over His head. The earthy scent fills the room. It is done. The Messiah has been anointed. You have followed through. You close your eyes, thanking God for His help in finding Jesus, and hoping that something about this strange task mattered.
The laughing stops. Everything is quiet for a second. Then, an angry voice shouts out, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money could have been given to the poor!” More angry voices join in. You can hear some unpleasant names being muttered. The gawking eyes have changed to daggers. A pit forms in your stomach, and your chest seizes up. You have made a terrible mistake. That nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor. That would have actually helped somebody. Maybe that’s what God had actually been telling you to do. You were just too stupid and short-sighted to see it. You have failed. You have to go home and tell your husband that you wasted all that nard—that you have completely and utterly failed. You have to admit to God that you have failed Him. He asked you to do one tiny, bitty thing for Him—and you couldn’t even pull it off.
You turn to leave. You don’t even bother gathering up the broken pieces of the jar. Who cares? Let the angry men clean it up. They’ll have to clean up the ointment mess anyway. But before you can escape, Jesus speaks. “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Everyone quiets down. You stop in your tracks, your heart swelling. Anointing Jesus was indeed what God had called you to do. You don’t really understand why—what Jesus says about preparing His body for burial doesn’t make any sense—but you did the right thing. If God hadn’t wanted you to anoint Jesus, then Jesus would have joined in with all the other criticisms. But the anointing meant something to Him. It had mattered. It had made a difference. A small difference, but a difference nonetheless. And for your faithfulness, Jesus is declaring that you are to be remembered. That whenever His Good News is told in the future, that the story of what you have done is to be told. You can’t help but to smile.
The talking starts back up again—people asking questions, wanting to know your name. They need a name, if they are to tell the story. You choose not to answer, and slip out the door instead—heading for home. Its better this way, that they don’t know who you are.
What better example is there that even the little things—the seemingly meaningless things—matter in the Kingdom of God and that all people are to be faithful to what they are called to do, than that of a nameless, common woman from Bethany.
It’s easy to get discouraged, Friends. It always has been—in every time and in every society—but there’s something about how the version of the world that we live in runs that seems to breed discouragement. The roots of competition run deep in our society, and if we’re not the best or the biggest at what God has called us to do, we feel like we have failed. If we don’t have faithful social media followers, a book deal, a charity that we started from scratch, or notoriety for your ability to minister to and to serve others—we start to wonder if we’re doing anything of any importance of all. If you weren’t called to become the next popular YouTube evangelist, or to go to Africa and give poor villages mosquito nets that you made yourself, you might fall into a state of lament over the supposed pointlessness of your life. Like the idiom says—go big or go home, right?
But the truth of the matter is that most of us are not called to the big, flashy things. We are called to the small ones. Heck, even the big things aren’t really big things—they are just several small things all shoved together to make one seamless end-production. For the vast majority of us, our Christian service is not going to get our names preserved in history books. The things that we do to better this world and to help expand the Kingdom of God will be things that only a few people will remember or benefit from. Like bringing our children and grandchildren to church, and teaching them to love Jesus. Helping that woman whose card is getting declined at the grocery store and who is on the verge of tears. Stepping up and taking on that role at church that nobody else wants to do. Being there for a grieving friend. Calling your relatives on a regular basis. Checking in on your neighbors. Showing grace and forgiveness to someone who has hurt you. Mentoring a young person. Giving someone who is having a bad day a hug. Being kind to that customer service representative who isn’t able to give you the outcome that you were hoping for. And these things matter. They matter because just like the anointing at Bethany, they mean something to somebody—even if it’s just one person and nobody else sees any value in it. They matter because you are faithfully completing the work that has been set before you to do, no matter how frustrating, or unappreciated, or messy it might be. They matter because God matters, and because He knows what He’s doing when He tells someone what He wants them to do.
Take comfort in this and be encouraged—that you, your spiritual gifts, and your call matters. It makes no difference if what God has asked you to do is big or small, glamorous or plain, extraordinary or unremarkable—its important. Stay faithful. Live your truth. Hold fast to God’s voice, and draw confidence from His presence. The world needs you and your ministry. God needs you and your ministry. Don’t give up. There is never joy without the occasional sorrow, and the reward of remaining steadfast to your gifts of ministry and to your call will be well-worth the moments of struggle. Hang in there, Friends.
Silent Worship (For as long as you feel led)
Psalm 116, by Jill Paquette DeZwaan
Ada Chapel Prayer
Father, we thank thee for the night; and for the blessed morning light. For rest and food and loving care; and all that makes the world so fair. Help us do the things we should; to be to others kind and good. In all we do, and all we say; to grow more loving every day. Amen.