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Malcolm Guite: Poets’ Corner

01 April 2021

Maundy Thursday is about everything that lockdown, last year, seemed to negate, says Malcolm Guite

THERE is something tentative and hesitant about the way we are approaching our second Holy Week and Easter still in lockdown. We are grateful not to be so utterly locked out of church and community as we were on that last strange Easter Day, but not quite sure how and where and whether to gather this time, how to keep company and at the same time keep safe.

There must have been some similar hesitancy, caution, and uncertainty for the first disciples about where and how to keep the passover with Jesus, about how to gather for that first Maundy Thursday. Our cautions and precautions are driven by anxiety about exposure to infection, theirs by fear of exposure to the authorities. The brooding threats of betrayal and arrest, gathering throughout Holy Week, must lie behind those mysterious, seemingly clandestine arrangements for obtaining the use of the upper room.

And yet they felt they had to take the risk; so much of the meaning of Maundy Thursday is bound up in the intimacy of personal exchange, the shared touch of the foot washing, a disciple leaning on Jesus’s breast, the shared bread and cup, all being together and breathing the same air, all the things we have had to do without for more than a year: those little kindling contacts with one another, and, through the sacrament, with our Saviour.

In Linton, we won’t actually gather in person till Easter Day, and then at a social distance, and everything will also be online. Yet even that small gathering is better than last year, when it was so hard to find the virtue in the virtual. I remember the shock of it, still so early in the strange new world of that first severe lockdown, when literally nothing was moving: the roads were empty, the planes all grounded, even the parks and playgrounds were deserted.

And, on that Maundy Thursday evening, when I should have been in church, I sat down instead and wrote this poem. Reading it again both takes me back and helps me to look forward. 

Maundy Thursday, All the World is still

Maundy Thursday, all the world is still
The planes wait, grounded by departure gates
The street is empty and the shopping mall
Deserted. Padlocked, the playground waits
Against the day that children play again
Till then our sad refrain is just “refrain”.

Maundy Thursday, all the world is still
And Jesus is at supper with his friends
No longer in the upper room, that hall
In Zion where the story starts and ends,
For he descended from it long ago
To find his new friends in the here and now.

Maundy Thursday, all the world is still
And Jesus is at supper with his friends
Our doors are locked for fear, but he has skill
In breaking barriers. With ease he bends
Our prison bars, slips past the sentry post
And joins us as the guest who is our host.

Maundy Thursday All the world is still
But in cramped quarters on the fifteenth floor,
In lonely towers made of glass and steel,
And in the fierce favelas of the poor,
Touching with wounded hands the wounds he tends,
Christ Jesus is at supper with his friends.

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