Queen Elizabeth maintains a tradition for Maundy (Holy) Thursday, that stretches back to the 1200s. The Royal Maundy worship service provides an opportunity for the monarch or a royal official to distribute small silver coins to the elderly for their service to the church. It is the only time the Queen travels to confer an honor, and this year 87 elderly citizens will receive the Royal Maundy – one for each year of the Queen’s age.
The tradition symbolizes the ideas of servanthood and loving one another, a welcome normalcy in a world where everything seems to change in a blink of a tweet or the breath of a Facebook post. It is a kind of reversal of the story of the widow’s mite, and it is a picture of King Jesus laying down his life for his people during that final holy week leading to his death.
During that last week in Jerusalem, Jesus maintains a daily pattern of activity. He teaches at the temple during the day, and then spends each night “on the hill called the Mount of Olives.” On the day of the Unleavened Bread, Jesus does what was customary and expected: He instructs the disciples to go into Jerusalem and make preparations for the Passover.
I find it difficult to insert myself into the “normal” religious rituals of the Passion week primarily because I am on this side of the cross, and even more importantly, this side of the resurrection. Looking back, everything had significance; each action Jesus took was a sign.
It’s hard to remember that for the disciples it was just another Passover, just another lamb, just another meal, just another Messiah even.
That week that forever changed history was, in fact, very normal.
When the hour for the feast comes, and the disciples assemble in the upper room, the signals that change is coming happen almost immediately.
Jesus washes their feet. He predicts the betrayal. He says this is His last meal before his death. He says Peter will deny Him three times. And then Jesus gives his disciples the last lessons, as if He’s trying to summarize everything into these final moments.
Then the normal seems to return again. Jesus and the disciples go to the Mount of Olives, and as if the whole Upper Room experience was just a dream, they quickly fall asleep and Jesus goes off to pray.
But it is no normal prayer, that heartrending plea to “take this cup from me.” Time is cracking open; the history of the world is entering a convulsion which will never end. As the disciples enter their REM sleep, the final minutes of the last normal day drip away like the sweat falling like blood from Jesus’ brow.
As Jesus wakes the disciples, the crowd of soldiers arrives. Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. The soldiers arrest Him and take Him away.
The last normal day is over.
Never again would Passover be “just Passover” nor the lamb, “just a lamb” nor a kiss, “just a kiss.” Scattered throughout Jerusalem, fearing their own arrest, the only thing the disciples wanted was just one more normal day, one more day walking with their master, one more day with the crowds.
They didn’t know yet that Jesus, the King of the Universe, had condescended to offer a Royal Maundy to his committed servants; they didn’t know that the new normal of resurrection would offer them life and joy far beyond a visit from any earthly Monarch.
It was the last normal day, and they had no way of knowing the tragedy and the glory that awaited them.