Revelations from a Maundy Thursday Vigil

“Can you stay with me for one hour?” Jesus requested of his apostles.  The invitation is a calling, a walk to a peaceful location of grace.  First, a stance, perhaps kneeling or sitting. Then, with eyes closed and an open heart, silent words rise to the heavens in prayer for loved ones, family, and friends, the strong and the weak, worries, and conclude in tumbling words of humbling gratitude.   

I readily admit to not sleeping well. My mind wandered in thought, anticipating the journey I had signed up to experience.  Before the alarm sounded, set for 1:45 AM, I quietly rose from my bed, dressed in layers, and left the house. The car’s engine idled for minutes before I drove the miles down dark streets and empty highways until reaching my destination, the church parking lot.  

Holy Week, an eight-day journey, is a personal walk through the remembrance of the Paschal Mystery from Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension.  Respective personal callings offer opportunities to take up the challenge and participate, in some way, big or small, in the final days of Jesus’ life.  

I chose to stand outside, facing the church doors, wrapped in a warm coat, and frequently peering up into the starry night sky. Curious of the hour, I glanced at the display on my phone, which  offered the time, 2:52 AM.  A parishioner unlocked the door, almost to the hour, smiled, and then departed, leaving me as the next witness.   

Scripture describes a scene when Jesus, at the end of supper, feels troubled; so, rather than walking to the Garden of Gethsemane for an hour’s reflection of solitude and prayer, he offers an invitation.  

And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch.” (Mark 14:34)

Lit candles were like a beacon, guiding my steps through the darkened vestibule to the place of my hour’s vigil. Potted plants, featuring the early risers and blossoms of the season, lay surrounded by a soothing, meticulous placement of pebbles and stones, patches of Irish moss, and handfuls of earth.  A Holy Bible and literature rest on a pew.  Yes. I feel transported, ready to open my heart in the Garden.  

As Jesus prayed, his disciples had yet to understand how their Messiah would free them from oppressors.  

Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now, this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:1-5)

Prayer feels urgent. The timely worries are ever-present, holding tight to the promise of obedience; yet, tomorrow brings a question that constricts the heart, even as Christians know the meaning of Good Friday. Jesus, through Scripture, will endure betrayal and abandonment, trials, and punishments reserved only for criminals.  

And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14: 37)

The vigil is not easy.  Fear drives the desire to remain alert.  Thoughts of the Apostles, their relevant fears, and disbelief in Jesus’ revelations correlate to the present day.  Exhausted from sorrow, they had no choice but to close their heavy-lidded eyes, and escape for just a while.  Did they ask for guidance? Strength?  A different understanding? I wonder. 

“Maundy” is not a word we come across in any other context, except through the association with Holy Thursday.  The term is derived from Latin, meaning “mandate.”  Jesus, however, provided his disciples with a new commandment. 

The candles flicker; yet, the heart remains pure and the occupant vigilant.  When checking my phone, I discover the hour is almost over.  Standing up, I walk from the glow of light into the darkness.  Turning the lock breaks the silence.  And the cool morning air brings one pleasant surprise.  I am greeted by a familiar face, a good friend who provides a well-needed warm embrace.   

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another(John: 13:34) 

Wherever you may be on Maundy Thursday, April 14TH, whether there is an organized vigil or not, won’t you claim one hour to watch and pray? 

 

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