I attended the Maundy-Thursday service at our church last night (by the way “Maunday” means “commandment” in Latin and refers to Jesus’ commandment to love and serve others with humility). It was a good old-fashioned small town potluck followed by a beautiful service of candles, somber, heartfelt singing, and some simple rituals that evoked grief and loss. A woman sitting in front of me cried against her young son’s neck, wiping her tears with his hair. Once again I was reminded of all the grief that we harbor, secretly within us.
I spoke with Will, a man who spent many years in a simple, poor, spiritual community practicing prayer. I spoke to him about an upcoming trip to Assisi in Italy. In response Will told me about being in Assisi on Maundy Thursday many years ago. In Assisi they have a procession in which they take down the body of Christ from the cross in the San Rufino chapel. The body is then processed through town, stopping at various cloistered communities where the body is kissed and prayed over by the Sisters and Brothers of the various communities. My friend told me as the body is processed there is only a simple drum beat as thousands of people sing, “We’re sorry, we did not recognize you.” Will and I both teared up as he told me this. No need to speak any further.
Of course, this song could be sung by all of us. We could sing, “We’re sorry, we did not recognize you,” to our friends, our family, our neighbors, our work colleagues, our former friends and lovers. These words could be sung to the thousands of Afghanies and Iraqis that we’ve killed (most of them civilians): “We’re sorry, we did not recognize you.” This song could be sung to the incarcerated, to the 8 million children without healthcare, to the millions of people across the world who suffer in factories, in coffee fields, in coal mines, and oil derricks for the benefit of me and other Americans: “We’re sorry, we did not recognize you.”
We did not recognize you. I did not recognize you. You were created in the image of God. You were made soft and loving, creative and kind, and I treated you as if you were an object, a servant, an enemy. I’m sorry. I did not recognize you. That is my prayer this Goody Friday. A prayer of sorrow for all the moments when I do not recognize the beauty and dignity of others.