A meditation on Maundy Thursday – the towel (an alternative to foot washing in a pandemic)

Picture of a white flannel with some lavender oil

Our first service back in our church building since January is Maundy Thursday. Of course, with many covid restrictions still in place it is not possible to have foot washing which is usually a key part of the Maundy Thursday eucharist. So for this year I have come up with an alternative meditation which focuses on the towel Jesus wraps around his waist to wash his disciples’ feet. Each person in church will be given a lavender oil infused white face cloth which they will hold while I share this meditation. I wanted to find something that was still a tangible experience but would work within the covid restrictions. You may wish to read the below meditation whilst holding a towel of your own, if you don’t have any essential oil you could spray it with some perfume.

Meditation on the towel

During Holy Week we enter into the passion or suffering of Christ, we journey with him and the disciples in the busy, overrun city of Jerusalem at a time of festival. Holy week is full of sights, sounds and smells. Tonight is no exception. Jesus with his friends and followers are eating the Passover Meal, rich roasted lamb, matzah cracker bread dipped in oil and delicious sauces, bitter herbs and sweet haroset. Wine is flowing, through the evening the guests become more relaxed as a third and then fourth glass of wine is consumed. Jesus gets up from his place of honour, takes off his clothes and ties a towel around his waist and proceeds to do the worst job of the lowest slave of the house, he begins to wash the disciples’ feet.

Tonight is all about the towel, a simple cloth, used to clean and dry all the dirt away. Hold the towel you were given this evening. Feel its texture.

Earlier in Holy Week, Jesus was at another meal, and Mary of Bethany chose to break a jar of pure nard, beautiful perfume, and anoint Jesus in a supreme act of love, weeping and wiping his feet with her hair. Tonight, at this last meal with his friends, the smell of the perfume lingers. Smell the towel you are holding. Imagine being able to smell the perfume on Jesus as he bows to wash your feet. The smell of holiness, the smell of divinity lingers in the air.

Silence

The towel you are holding is pure white. It is able to absorb all that is thrown at it, all the dirt and water, it takes it away from you so that you are clean again. This is what Jesus does for you, takes upon himself all that sin, all those wrongs, those things that mar our character, he is not afraid to face up to the smell and the dirt.

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus says.

Silence

Tonight is not the only night we encounter a towel or cloth. On Good Friday, Veronica will step forward in the crowd on the route to Golgotha to wipe away the sweat, blood, tears and phlegm from Jesus’ face. Bring your towel up to your face, imagine the relief of having your face wiped clean after being spat at.

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus says.

Silence

And then, after they’ve brought Jesus’ body down from the cross, the women will wrap Jesus in cloths with a separate one for his head as they gently lay him in the tomb, preparing to return in the morning with the spices for embalming.

Silence

On Easter Day, bring out your towel again, and remember how the head cloth was folded separately from the other cloths in the tomb.

Jesus leaves the towel behind, perhaps as a reminder to us.

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus says.

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