There’s such a sense of momentum from the second half of Maundy Thursday until now on Good Friday. It is as though events overtake you and you’re caught up in the breathlessness of it all. And that must be good, and that must be how it must be, because that is how it must have been for Jesus and his disciples. Events took them over as they were taken over, as evil had its day, as political power buckled under the demands of the crowd, as one man bore the weight of everything.
Yesterday evening, the ‘Evening Celebration of the Lord’s Supper’, was amazing. I’ve presided at that service so many times but this year it seemed to affect me differently. It was something to do with the feet to be perfectly honest. Twelve members of the congregation had offered to have their feet washed (or at least a foot) and they were seated down the nave. Canon Mark Oakley, our Holy Week preacher, had already challenged us to think what the church would have been like if the command to wash one another’s feet, which Jesus gave to his disciples, had replaced as foremost and paramount the command to eat bread and drink wine ‘in remembrance of me’.
‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13.14)
What, he asked, if we were a community of foot washers rather than bread breakers. The bowl rather than the altar would then have been at the heart of our liturgy and our life. It was a fascinating idea. It is an evening of commands – to love, to wash, to eat, to drink. And we perhaps couldn’t follow them all and so we chose the meal, we chose to follow the command to eat and drink, and forgot the command to wash, until this night.
One of the things that the priest becomes very familiar with is seeing the row of hands held out waiting, wanting communion, the bread of life. Those hands have been part of the Lent art installation ‘Earthworks’ and have reminded me of those hands. But we have also had a series of feet in the Cathedral, at the High Altar. And so seeing these twelve feet before me, waiting to be washed I found very moving. And it’s physically demanding. Up and down, up and down, juggling the bowl and towel and the water – pouring, holding, drying the feet. It’s intimate, personal, nothing quite like it. You look at the feet, not at the face. Young feet, black feet, gnarled feet, feet that have taken long journeys, feet that have been well looked after. We know hands well, we hold them, touch them – but feet are so different. Yet, like hands they tell their story – and it’s a story of pilgrimage, of the journey people are on.
That journey continued today because some of those same feet were on the Walk of Witness that I took part in from Blackfriars to Waterloo. On the way we gathered people and at the Pop-Up Church in the station people stopped hurrying for trains as we sang ‘Amazing Grace’. It was amazing and there was grace abounding. Then back in the Cathedral we took that journey with Jesus to the cross.
The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday is for me perhaps the most powerful service of the Christian year. It has its own pace, the slow walk to the cross, the walk of the mournful, the solemn walk that brings you to Calvary. Within all the solemnity though its the veneration of the cross which is amazing. The line of people down the nave, each wanting their moment at the cross, making that journey to be near the cross on this day, is staggeringly humbling.
In the station I was asked to give an interview. ‘Why have you been doing this; why is Good Friday important?’ I spoke about the way in which so many people don’t know what’s going on when they see the procession coming down the street, and maybe, maybe we just remind them of the day, like on Palm Sunday. And why do it? Because whilst some may think that this was something that happened then, we know that it happens now. Christianity, Jesus, God, is always in the now, in the present moment and setting the cross at the heart of the busyness of Waterloo Station as people hurry past, their feet bearing them on their journey and setting the cross in the heart of the Cathedral where the pilgrim journey always continues is a reminder that the foot of the cross is planted in the now of the world.
Holy feet, holy journeys, the sacred feet of Jesus nailed to the cross, the foot of that cross driven into the earth, feet to be washed, feet to be cherished, journeys to be made.
may every step I take
be on the path
that you tread before me.