At this year’s Maundy Thursday service, things were a bit different.
For a start, I was serving as an acolyte rather than just attending – helping with candles and wine and water and assisting with the stripping of the church as the service ended and the Watch was beginning.
At St Peter’s, there’s a statue of Mary in a small tabernacle/grotto to one side of the church, in line with the low altar. There are votive candles before it and during the set up, I was asked to light one so that, should they wish, other members of the congregation could light another from it. As I stood there, making sure the flame took, I felt moved to apologise for what was about to happen – both later in the service and later in the weekend – it seemed entirely appropriate to express regret for what we (the people) were about to do in terms that suggested that Mary didn’t know what was coming…
The main service was held around the low altar, to better recreate the feeling of gathering around the table with Jesus at the Last Supper. This had the practical consequence that the Altar/Garden of Repose was moved to the high altar and all eyes were on this, as the church was stripped of all removable dressings. It felt a much more private thing to be involved with than I had expected.
As I carried Mary to the back of the church and into the vestry I experienced (very) mild panic as I couldn’t find anywhere to put her – on a chair and she wouldn’t balance, on one of the desks or tables and she’d be knocked off by the next passing elbow. I tucked her away as safely as I could manage, standing on the floor between a couple of banners, and felt very sorry for her, I apologised again, and told her to take care of herself.
I worry about her – I know Jesus can take care of himself and chooses his path of suffering – Mary was only told about hers after she was well down the track. As Jesus was eating this final meal with his friends, was she there? Did she sense that the long foretold sword was about to pierce her soul?
I wonder how her story ends – the last mention of anything happening with her in the Bible has her at the foot of the cross, although she’s later mentioned in Acts as being with the disciples in an upper room.
Back at the foot of the cross, I wonder how she felt. Sorrow at her son’s plight? Anger with the authorities for doing this? Anger with Jesus because she knew he could “save himself” but chose not to? Bewilderment at being palmed off onto the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, when all she wanted was for him to be down off that cross and in her arms?
Did she ponder these things too and make the connections with the things she’d pondered at the start of Jesus’ life?
I wouldn’t say I was devoted to Mary, but it seems we’re becoming quite attached.