Reflection – Maundy Thursday
Today is a great Feast Day and, appropriately, is celebrated in white or gold, complete with the Gloria and much joyous celebration, for on this day Our Lord instituted the Mass, which enables the salvation he wrought on the Cross to be communicated to all people at in all times and places, who freely unite themselves to him in the Church.
Yet it is not that which I wish to reflect on today, but what happened afterwards. Christ withdrew with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend time in prayer. The Gospels make it clear that this was a time of great anguish for Christ. Why should it not be? He knew that he was shortly to be beaten, tortured and have nails thrust through his feet and his wrists, leading to a terrible death, suffocating on his own blood. Although there are, undoubtedly, worse ways in which to die, it is yet not a way in anyone would wish to expire. No wonder he was terrified! Luke, a doctor himself, records that Christ’s sweat fell in great drops of blood. This is a phenomenon known as Hematidrosis, brought about by extreme stress. It was noted by Leonardo da Vinci and by WW1 doctors as being seen in soldiers before combat but is very rare. In Christ, it was worse as he could have just walked away from his coming ordeal, had he so chosen!
Prayer is sometimes presented as being an answer to everything, but it is not that simple. In prayer here, we note, Jesus begs to be spared the ordeal – but submits himself to the will of God and all that this will entail. So, too, for us. We must be prepared to offer ourselves to God’s will, even if that leads to suffering and death. We are loved by God – but this does not act like a magic charm! Rather, unlike us, God sees the ‘big picture’ – our lives in the light of eternity. He also gives people free will, which means that it is possible to end another’s life. God, therefore, may allow us to suffer and die. However, if we trust in him, we can see that this will always tend to our ultimate good. Hard to see as it is, especially in times like these, our earthly lives are only a small part of the whole of them, for we are made to dwell forever with God in heaven. That, thanks be to God, is our true destiny.
None of us wish to die, as Jesus did not. We fear and turn away from death. Yet Jesus, in submitting himself to it, reveals its true nature to us. Yes, by all means, pray to God for life, but do not see death as a failure on the part of prayer, or of God! Death is the end of earthly life – but, for the Christian, the doorway to eternal life!
As Christ this night prepared for his own death, recall that he also knew of the glory to come through it. Let us, living in a time of great sickness and death, which has come upon 21st Century Western humanity in a most unexpected way, offer our prayers tonight for all who are sick and dying from this dreadful virus, in particular, asking that they are given strength, as Jesus was, to face death in the light of God, knowing that, in spite of all the sorrow and sickness, the hope of a share in the Resurrection life is held before them, the promise of Jesus – and that promise remains as sure and as certain as ever!