Bishop Nigel’s recent article in the Courier, a widely read daily Scottish newspaper printed in Dundee.
When I was consecrated Bishop amongst the gifts I received was a purple plastic washing-up bowl! Not just for my kitchen, but a serious reminder that bishops are called to be foot washing servants of God.
For Christians worldwide, today is Maundy Thursday when we recall Jesus’s commandment to his disciples to be loving to others as he had loved them. During the Last Supper in Jerusalem (often depicted in Renaissance art) Jesus took a bowl of water and a towel and washed his disciples’ feet, a task normally undertaken by the lowest servant, certainly not by the dinner party host. Tonight I will be washing other people’s feet using the purple bowl in St Mary’s Church Arbroath.
Earlier at lunchtime at St Paul’s Cathedral Dundee we are serving food and essentials to the city’s homeless and rough-sleepers, to the lonely and those with complex personal and social issues – the most vulnerable who fall through the net of social support. This modest weekly initiative, Soup & Soul, offers loving care for the whole person.
The Last Supper is a discomforting occasion because it preludes the night of the betrayal of Jesus, his arrest and trial by both the Jewish and Roman authorities. It is a dark night of fear and torture, denial and anguish. For tomorrow, on Good Friday, Jesus is crucified on a cross with two thieves at the rubbish tip outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
It puzzles some that Christians describe the tragic final events of Jesus’s life and death, as a Holy Week. The word holy signifies awe and purity of heart, and perhaps highlights what really matters in our everyday faith. Its currency can however be discredited - sadly we hear much these days of holy war from terrorists and we recognise shallow, sanctimonious people when we meet them. If Holy Week teaches us anything it is the paradox of our contemporary faith, whatever it may be: that true fulfilment comes through quiet courage and ordinary service, not through grandstanding.
Years ago as a young priest in Invergowrie I was called to a council flat one afternoon by a parishioner who asked me to give her elderly husband a wet shave because his hands were too shaky, and he wanted to look smart for a hospital outpatient appointment the following morning. Somewhat gingerly I did my best. I later learned that he had unexpectedly been kept in hospital overnight and that, suddenly he had died.
As his widow later remarked, her beloved husband went to meet his maker, without ceremony or fond farewells, but clean-shaven. My purple washing up bowl reminds me of him and the everyday loving service to which we are each in our own way called, and that the demanding journey of Holy Week always arrives gloriously on Easter Sunday.
This article appeared in the Courier on Thursday, 2 April 2015.