William Blake wrote two poems for Holy Thursday. They contrast innocence with experience.
One is from Songs of Innocence:
‘Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow.
O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
The other is from Songs of Experience:
Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!
And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.
For where’er the sun does shine,
And where’er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.
Taken together they present a challenging view of life, comparing faith expressed in worship and action. In truth, of course, we need both. We need worship in order to renew our relationship with God. We need action to renew our relationship with fellow human beings.
Maundy Thursday captures these two components of Christian life. We remember two parts of the last days and hours of Jesus. One is the washing of his disciples’ feet, placing himself in the position of the lowliest servant in the household. This stamps his image on servant leadership, a complete challenge and rebuttal of leadership exercised for personal prestige, or gain, or power. The other is the institution of Holy Communion, as part of his last supper with his disciples, generally accepted to be a Passover meal. This stamps his image on the recurring celebration of God as redeemer of Israel, reminding his followers that through remembering his willingness to offer his body and blood to be taken by the forces of imperialistic culture, Jesus models the path of strength through weakness, submitting to God’s strength to overcome human power.
In serving his disciples, Jesus gave them, and us, one last commandment: to love one another as he loved – and all he asks us to do is to love. It is a message that is desperately needed in today’s society where it is so easy to claim to be Christian and yet consistently speak words of judgement, intolerance, rejection and even hatred. Jesus does not call us to take up arms to defend him nor does he ask us to judge others who do not live up to our standards. He simply insists that those who claim to be his followers love one another, and demonstrate that love in their lives together, being willing to serve in the same way that he demonstrated in washing his disciples’ feet.