Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Anointed with Oil, Equipped to Serve

My church has a tradition of foot washing as part of the Maundy Thursday service.  We've always offered hand washing as an alternate, and of course, a congregation member doesn't have to do either one.

This year, we did something different.  We moved the washing part of the service to the end, as people processed out.  We ditched the foot washing.  We had a team of people.  The first one washed  the hands of each person passing through, the second one dried, and the pastor anointed each hand by marking a cross with oil.

I found it a profoundly moving way to end the service.  The Lutheran tradition sees Maundy Thursday as more than just a memory of the Last Supper.  In fact, the word "Maundy" comes from the Latin word "maundatum" which means commandment.  The Maundy Thursday service should be a reminder of the new commandment, which is to love each other.

But we don't just sit around the dinner table oozing love for each other, although perhaps many of us need to return to the dinner table as evidence of love and caring.  The foot washing part of the passage launches into Christ's mandate that we love each other and that we show that love by serving each other--as opposed to, say, buying each other diamonds.

The anointing of hands reminded us that we go out into the world to do God's work with our hands.  I found it a powerful way to end the service.

It made me want to find ways to incorporate it into other services.  What would a healing service look like if we ended it by anointing hands on the way out of the church?  When we bless the backpacks of students in the fall and the Sunday before, when we bless teachers and administrators, would it be more powerful if we also anointed hands?

From what I can tell, Lutherans are only just now beginning to rediscover this ancient spiritual practice of anointing with oil.  It will be interesting to see where it leads.

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