Immediately following the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday we remove from the altar all the vessels, the missal and stand, the candlesticks, the paraments, eveything. The table is bare, plain, naked. We shroud the crosses with black. The lights go down. We leave the church in uneasy silence, forbidden the usual words of greeting, encouragement, appreciation for the sermon, the music, the small-talk that makes us feel at home. It right for this to feel wrong, this disruption in what we have grown used to.
These symbols point us to the reality of Christ’s suffering and death. Like all symbols they have multiple layers of meaning. The altar table represents Christ. Its stripping calls to mind his treatment at the hands of the Temple guards and the Roman soldiers. He was stripped for beating, for mockery, finally for crucifixion, death and burial. But Jesus also stripped himself when he laid aside his outer garment and, in the minimal apparel of a slave at a dirty task, no longer the host but the servant, washed the feet of his disciples. In fact Christ’s whole life was a stripping, from the moment of the Incarnation, laying aside all the prerogatives of His eternal Sonship in the Blessed Trinity.
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2: 6-8)
St Paul begins this passage by saying, “Let this mind be in you,” a willingness to strip ourselves, and be stripped. Terrifying thought. In chapter 3 Paul takes it a step further declaring his one objective: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. I recommend this brief meditation for further reflection during this season. May the Savior’s presence be very real to you in these hours.