Miss Shepherd was an eccentric old woman who took up residence in a van in the driveway of Alan Bennet’s home. Writing about her in his diaries (which were turned into a film) he describes how, the Sunday before she died she went to Mass for the first time in a long time. Then, on the Wednesday, she allowed herself to be taken to be bathed, given clean clothes and then put to bed in the van with clean sheets. That night she died. Alan Bennet thought the shock of the bath had killed her. The doctor assured him she had experienced deaths in other similar situations. Far from a shock to the system, the bath was a preparation , an acknowledgement that death was in the offing.
As Jesus gathers with his disciples for Passover, death is in the offing. His time has come, and he prepares his disciples in the gift he offers of himself as he gives them bread as his body, the wine as his blood. In John’s gospel though, there is no mention of this, but the foot washing serves as a prophetic sign, an acknowledgement that death is in the offing, as he offers himself for the life of the world. If they do not allow him to wash their feet they can have nothing in common with him.
At the beginning of the three great days of the Paschal Triduum, as Jesus invites his disciples to share in his life and his love, he gives us a command to love. How so very human of us that, at times, we need to be reminded to love. Love, surely, is such a human emotion, so natural, so necessary, and yet so often we fail to love. And yet love, so Jesus reminds is of God, for God is Love. Far from being a simple human thing, love is divine. We love because God first loved us, and the only real and fruitful response to being loved is to love in return. On that first Maundy Thursday, death was in the offing for Jesus, a death that is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.
Lord God, we love because you first loved us. During these days may we experience afresh the love you have for us and be moved to share your love with others. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.