Maundy Thursday 2017 – The Church’s Petrine Moment

Before I get too deep here – a joke for you to keep in mind as you read this post.  What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

You can negotiate with a terrorist.

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Peter gives Jesus a pass on the foot stuff

“You will never wash my feet.”

How long must those words have hung in the air?  Peter, Jesus’ most petulant disciple, again springs into the limelight on Maundy Thursday as once more he directly challenges the will of his teacher and friend.  The first disciple to name Jesus as the Messiah, you would think he might be more willing to go along with what Jesus asks of him, but for whatever reason, Peter is constantly fighting with Jesus like my four year-old fights with me.

Jesus is undeterred.  Here is the line in the sand.  “Foot washing is a part of this discipleship thing, and unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with me.”  This is, to be very clear, a non-negotiable.  Jesus is modeling for his disciples, which includes us, what it means to be a servant leader.  “I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.”

“I don’t really like washing feet.”

“It doesn’t mean what it did in the first century.”

Of late, some clergy have taken on the role of Peter when it comes to Maundy Thursday, choosing to skip the foot washing (n.b. I know it is an optional rite) or somewhat inexplicably choosing to wash hands instead of feet (Honestly, just take the rubrically allowed path and don’t do it at all).  As I reflect on my own discomfort with feet, with touching feet, and with slathering on hand sanitizer, but still feeling like I’m celebrating the Eucharist with feet covered hands, I know, in my heart of hearts, that I’d rather not do it.  Like Peter, I’d like to say, “I’ll never wash feet,” but Jesus didn’t let Peter get away with it, and I doubt if he’ll let me either.

The very fact that the washing of feet is so awkward and strange is the reason we should do it.  Ignoring for a moment that Jesus said, “do as I have done for you,” every Episcopal Church in the land should be washing feet tonight because it is a part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Discipleship calls us out of our comfort zones, it asks us to talk to our neighbors about Jesus, to get up early on Sunday and come to worship, to donate time during the week to serve our neighbors, to give sacrificially of our money for the Kingdom, and it is all summed up in one terrifically uncomfortable act on Maundy Thursday.  When we wash feet, we take our part with Jesus who shows us what it means to walk the hard road to redemption.

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Blessed by Doing, even when it makes no sense – a homily

On the island of Sicily, there is a city called Monreale, which boasts one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all the world.  It was built beginning in 1174 and was dedicated as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Pope Lucius III in 1182.  What sets the Cathedral at Monreale apart are its absolutely stunning glass mosaics that cover 6,500 square meters of wall space – that’s almost 70,000 square feet of tiny glass tiles telling the story of Christian history.[1]  This morning, my friend Nurya posted a photo of the cathedral’s Mandatum mosaic, and I completely fell in love.[2] The cathedral at Monreale is officially on my bucket list.

The scene, set against a striking gold background, shows the disciples gathered around Jesus who is stooped low, washing the feet of Peter.  They are all looking at Jesus somewhat askance.  Through sideways glances, some look confused and a few look sad, but it is Peter who tells the full story.  As Jesus is wiping his foot with a towel, Peter is scratching his head as if to say, “This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

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I think Peter is showing outwardly and visibly what most of us feel inwardly in our souls each Maundy Thursday.  Of all the things we do in the Church: processions, vestments, and bread and wine becoming Christ’s body and blood; of all the fantastic stories we tell of 40 day floods, oil jars that never fail, even Jesus being resurrected from the dead; the events of Thursday in Holy Week are probably the most mind boggling.

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God who came to save the world and restore the throne of David met his disciples for supper on the Eve of the Feast of the Passover.  Instead of whipping them into shape for an assault on their Roman occupiers, as most of them hoped and expected him to do, Jesus hunched over, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and began to wipe the dirt from their feet in an act of humble service.  This was wholly unacceptable behavior for a man of Jesus’ stature.  Slaves washed the feet of men higher than themselves.  Students washed the feet of their Rabbis.  Rabbis didn’t wash their disciples’ feet.  Kings didn’t stoop down for anyone, but Jesus did, and Peter and the rest of the disciples didn’t know what to do with that.  As the strange scene came to an end, Jesus put his coat back on, returned to the table, and began to teach them that this sort of mind-boggling behavior was what it meant to be his disciple.  “I have set for you an example,” Jesus said, “You should wash one another’s feet.  You should love one another as I have loved you.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

The sort of people who show up for church at 6pm on Maundy Thursday know these things.  You’ve taken time out of your busy lives to come and hear some of the craziest stories in all of Scripture.  You’ve learned to eat the Passover feast standing up, ready to run at a moment’s notice.  You’ve heard the retelling of Jesus’ Last Supper in which he took bread and called it his body and took wine and called it his blood.  You’ve no doubt scratched your head a time or two in wonder and awe at Jesus’ humility in washing the feet of his disciples.  You’re here because you know the power of the love of God in your life, but Jesus says there is a next step.  You’ll be blessed by doing.

You’ll be blessed by following the example of Jesus and washing someone else’s feet.  You’ll be blessed by following Peter’s example and, even though it might seem weird and uncomfortable, allowing someone else to wash your feet.  You’ll be blessed by dedicating your life to humble service of the poor, the outcast, the hungry, the oppressed, and those in prison.  You’ll be blessed by learning to love thy neighbor no matter their color, their religion, their gender, their sexual orientation – no matter what.  You’ll be blessed by living a life worthy of the Gospel even when it means holding an unpopular belief in hope in a world that seems hell bent on instilling fear and mistrust.  Peter will tell you first hand that blessings come in mysterious ways, but the best blessings come from following the example that Jesus Christ set for us: a life of loving and sacrificial service to the honor and glory of God.  In the end, foot washing is a choice.  You don’t have to do it.  You can blessed by doing any number of other things in the name of Christ.  But on Maundy Thursday, foot washing serves as a reminder of the depth of God’s love for this world: a love so devoted that a King took off his robe, crouched down, and washed the feet of his friends.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever.  Amen.[3]


 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monreale#The_Cathedral

[2] http://www.growchristians.org/2016/03/24/observing-maundy-thursday/#more-469

[3] https://www.churchofengland.org/media/41156/tspashw.pdf

The Last Supper

At Saint Paul’s, we remember this week by walking with Jesus day by day through the Gospel of Mark.  As such, I’ll be reflecting on those daily lessons here at Draughting Theology.  Today’s lesson is Mark 14:12-25.

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H/T Episcopal Church Memes

I’m an ISTJ on the Myers Briggs personality scale.  I’m a solid Type-A.  I love a good plan, I love it even more when that plan is set weeks in advance, and I love it the most when all of the pieces of that plan are finished 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  It is no wonder then that I find myself drawn to the pre-planning that Jesus had done ahead of dinner on Thursday night.

With the exception maybe of Judas the CPA (let’s ignore what that says about me), all of Jesus’ disciples are clearly Type-B personalities.  We can tell this because Mark says it isn’t until Thursday afternoon that anyone thinks to ask, “Hey, what are we going to do for Passover?”  Never mind that they need to find an unblemished lamb to be killed within a few hours, they don’t even have a place to hold the Seder meal.  This is akin to not having dinner reservations on Valentine’s Day.  Good luck guys.

But Jesus has a plan.  He’s already secured a place, and has a water jug carrying man who will lead them there.  Jesus knows that tonight is the night.  He’s keenly aware that Judas has already struck a deal for his life, and he’s got his farewell discourse prepared and rehearsed.  Jesus is in control, even as it seems that everything and everyone is spiraling out of control around him.  He’s got the pieces in place to show his disciples what sacrificial service looks like.  He’s ready to give them the custom by which they will remember his teachings and be nourished by his Spirit.  He’s whittled down three years of teaching down to a new commandment and a prayer of encouragement.

Tonight won’t be an easy night, but it won’t be for lack of planning.  Instead, when Jesus leads his disciples to the Garden after dinner, he will do so knowing he has done everything he can to prepare them for life without him.

Tonight, Christians of many traditions will gather to hear these familiar words.  They’ll take and eat in remembrance.  As oft as they shall drink it, they will do it in remembrance.  Some will even stoop down to wash another’s feet, following the example of sacrificial love that Jesus set for his disciples.  We will do so not simply to reenact an ancient ritual, but to bring Jesus forth afresh in our world.  We will take his body and blood that we might be his body in the world, becoming servants and reaching out in loving service to those in need.  And it’ll al be according to Jesus’ plan.

Jesus’ Mandate – Maundy Thursday

Every year at this time, I stop and give thanks.  I give God thanks and praise that the Church decided that the thing it would remember about Jesus wasn’t the washing of feet but the sharing of bread and wine.  Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when the Church remembers Jesus’ final evening with his disciples.  It was, at least in the Synoptic accounts, the evening of the Passover Feast.  Jesus and his disciples were gathered in the room that had been home base all week to share the sacred meal and remember God’s salvific work for their ancestors enslaved in Egypt.  Over the course of the evening, there are three main events that are worth remembering: Jesus’ Meal, Jesus’ Pedilavium, and Jesus’ Mandate.

Jesus’ Meal: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

According to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, The Holy Eucharist is “the principal act of Christian worship.”  In the midst of our corporate worship with offer God thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We do so through the sacramental signs of bread and wine; symbols of Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out on Good Friday.  We do so in congruence with his own words, that it be done in remembrance of him.  Through that remembrance (anamnesis), we are grafted into a two-thousand year-old practice and united with Christ and his disciples in that upper room.  This will be the last Eucharist celebrated until Easter morning.  We’ll go without the nourishment of Christ as we remember his death on Good Friday and keep watch at the tomb on Holy Saturday.

Jesus’ Pedilavium: “I have set an example.”

During that last supper, Jesus got up from the table and did something astonishing.  Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  Jesus, always the teacher, explained to them what he had done.  “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”  Just as we remember Christ’s gift of love in the Eucharistic Feast, we follow the example of that love by taking part in the most humbling and humiliating of activities that one human being can do for another (outside of areas covered by a bathing suit).  We engage in this profoundly counter-cultural, shockingly intimate, utterly awkward act as a sacramental reminder of God’s never-failing love for us, and we’re lucky we only have to do it once a year because it is, at least according to John’s account, the sacramental act that fulfills the mandate of Jesus.

Jesus’ Mandate: “Love one another.”

Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.
A new commandment I give to you: Love one another.

That love which Jesus commands of us is the agape sort of love.  It is self-giving love.  It is the love that compels God to send his Son to save the world.  It is the love that motivates Jesus to stretch out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross.  Agape love is deeper than writing a check.  Agape love is more profound than getting up early on Sunday to go to Eucharist.  Agape love is well beyond quiet times and Bible memorization.  Agape love is washing feet, and it is the love that Jesus commands we have for one another.  Maybe it was agape love that kept the Apostles from highlighting foot washing over the Eucharist, or maybe it was just a good PR person.  Either way, I’m grateful for the choice they made, even as I remember the profound act of agape love that is the pedilavium.

I Hate Feet – a homily

The sound system stopped recording about half way through tonight’s sermon, perhaps it is where I should have stopped.  But you can read the whole thing below.

I hate feet.  They are gross.  They are dirty.  They are sweaty.  They are stinky.  I hate feet.  Every Maundy Thursday, I spend most of the day giving thanks to God that by the time Acts 2 rolls around, the disciples had decided that the central act of Christian worship would be based on bread and wine rather than water and feet. Note that I said I spend most of the day giving thanks for that.  For about an hour, starting at six o’clock every Maundy Thursday, I am profoundly thankful for the example that Jesus set for those who would come after him by washing the feet of his disciples.

It is the Last Supper, one of the five most famous meals that Jesus ate during his lifetime.  Safely situated in an upper room, Jesus and his closest friends are gathered for an emotionally charged evening.  It’s been an interesting week, to say the least.  They arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, with Jesus riding a donkey and people shouting “Hosanna!  God save us!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”  After a brief but ominous stop at the Temple, they returned to Bethany for a good night’s sleep.  On Monday, they saw Jesus lose his mind, curse a fig tree, and flip the tables of the money changers right there in the Temple court.  Tuesday brought an endless barrage of nuanced socio-religio-political arguments between Jesus and the Scribes, Chief Priests, and Elders.  And just yesterday, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, poured thirty-thousand-dollars’ worth of ointment on Jesus and washed him with her hair.

Now it is Thursday, the Day of Preparation for the high feast of the Passover.  Imagine the table conversation in this supercharged environment.  The disciples can hardly contain themselves.   The excitement for what they think is going to happen next is overwhelming.  Tomorrow is the Passover, the annual remembrance of God’s gift of salvation, the night the Hebrews were set free from Egyptian bondage and returned to favored status as God’s Chosen People.  Tomorrow will be a big day, they can feel it in their bones as they eat, drink, and make merry.

Without warning, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his dress coat and begins to wash their feet.  This is not the behavior of the Savior of Israel.  The Messiah shouldn’t wash people’s feet, their soon to be Roman slaves should.  Peter, true to his nature, is appalled and will have none of it.  “You would wash my feet!?!” he asks.  Jesus tries to calm him down, but Peter balks all the more, “You’ll never wash my feet!”  And then Jesus says something very interesting, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  This act of love by Jesus is so important that he won’t allow anyone who wants to have a part in his Kingdom to miss out.  This is what Jesus’ life and ministry has all been about: washing his friends’ feet.  Still seemingly missing the point, Peter relents, but for Judas, this was still not the behavior of the Savior of Israel.  It was just too much for him as he takes off into the darkness, but he doesn’t get away before Jesus had washed even his feet.

Clearly, the dinner conversation changed after that.  In fact, after Jesus sits back down to supper, John has him doing 99% of the talking for the next four-and-a-half chapters.  Before he predicts Peter’s denial or promises the Holy Spirit; before he prays for his disciples, Jesus gives them a new commandment, “that you love one another.”  The Latin is [Man-datum novum d’oh vobis ut dili-gatis in-vichem si-cut di-lexi vos][1]

from which we get the name for this day, Maundy Thursday.  Jesus’ mandate, his commandment to his disciples and all who would follow him, is that we have love for one another, and there is no better example of how we should love then the profoundly counter-cultural act of washing each other’s feet.

I detest feet.  Feet are gross.  Every year, Keith reminds me that the ceremony of foot washing is very much an optional part of the Special Liturgy for Maundy Thursday.  Some Episcopal Churches have taken on a new-fangled practice of washing each other’s hands.  Others won’t do foot, hand, or any sort of washing.  If you ask me, you’d be better off doing nothing than washing hands precisely because feet are disgusting.  For me, it just wouldn’t be Maundy Thursday without foot washing.  Jesus’ true act of love isn’t sharing a meal with his disciples; he did that all the time.  The sign and symbol of his deep and abiding love was washing the feet of Judas who would betray him to death, Peter who would that very night deny him three times, and the rest of the rag-tag group who would fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, abandon him at his arrest, watch from afar as he died on a cross, and lock themselves in this same upper room out of fear and heartbreak.

We have a chance to model that deep love of Christ, to live into his Mandate, when we set aside all our pride, all our dignity and stoop down to wash the feet of one who we might only know in passing.  When we serve one another, we serve God, and tonight, as we wash each other’s feet, we are both Christ doing the washing and Christ being washed.

I abhor feet, and if the history of this service is any indicator, many of you do as well, but it is my sincere hope that every single person here this evening will come forward to have their feet washed and to wash the feet of another.  It is the outward and visible sign of Christ’s love for us and of his Mandatum novum that we love one another.  After all, how will they know we are disciples of Jesus unless we love, care for, and serve one another?  Even if it means touching each other’s feet.

 

[1] “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”