Maundy Thursday is the day in Holy Week, leading up to the Christian celebration of Easter, when we stop to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ’s love and remember his command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” We commemorate the Passover feast that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in the Upper Room, the “Last Supper” which is the basis of the Christian celebration of communion—breaking the bread and sharing the cup. In the Upper Room, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, providing a model of servanthood for us today. As he broke the bread, he gave them vivid images of sacrifice: “this is my body, broken for you” and as he poured the cup, “this is my blood, shed for you.” Today, we participate in communion as we remember the magnitude of Jesus’ love for all humankind, and the sacrifice he made on our behalf.
“There is a Fountain,” an 18th century British hymn most often sung to a familiar Early American folk tune, evokes the image of Jesus’ blood which was shed, out of love, for the salvation of all humankind. Its author, William Cowper, a prolific poet and hymnwriter in 18th century England, struggled throughout his life with “melancholy” or, as we would label it today, depression. After being hospitalized following a life-changing breakdown, he eventually landed in the town of Olney, working alongside pastor and spiritual mentor John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace.” Together, in addition to pastoral duties, they collaborated on creating and publishing the Olney Hymns, to which Cowper contributed 68 different hymns. Cowper’s struggles with depression aided his ability to write texts that evoked deep emotions and powerful responses. His hymn, originally titled “Praise for the Fountain Opened”, wields powerful phrases that help us articulate the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice: “There is a fountain, filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath the flood, lose all their guilty stains.”
At the end of a long year besieged by the pandemic of COVID-19, our hearts are individually and collectively heavy with emotion. For many of us, melancholy has been a real struggle. But, as we come to Holy Week, may we reflect on the powerful image of Christ’s sacrifice, on his model of love and service to all, and may we emerge singing this hymn, “Then, in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing Thy power to save.”