One of the great gifts we have here at Christ Church is the front desk ministry. In two-hour shifts, sixteen faithful volunteers and a handful of fill-ins, make sure that guests are welcomed, the phone is answered, and sundry administrative details are handled. Having those things dealt with is nice, but the best part of it is the relationships. I’ve learned so much about our front desk volunteers over the past few years. I’ve heard stories of children and grandchildren. I’ve listened to great tales of business trips and family vacations. We’ve shared prayer concerns and laughs, all around the front desk in moments of brief exchange. I’ve also learned of some of the neat hobbies that people have. Richard Greer is a car guy. Maryanne Ringo makes dog clothing. Paula Maier is gifted in needlepoint.
I don’t have the skill nor the patience for needlepoint, but in watching Paula work meticulously on gifts months and months in advance, I’ve come to understand how important it is to work from a good pattern. The pattern is always there, reminding you of the right path to follow in order to produce the finished product you desire. It shows you where the outline turns. It helps you to determine what to fill in with red and what is actually a lighter shade of pink. The pattern is dependable. Never failing.
On Maundy Thursday, the church gathers to mark an ending and a beginning. The meal that Jesus and his disciples shared this night is commonly called the Last Supper. It was the final opportunity for Jesus to share what was of utmost importance with his closest friends. They engaged in the traditional Jewish practices of breaking bread and sharing from a common cup. Jesus reminded them of what they would need to remember after the chaos of the 24 hours that were to come. He gave them a new mandate for life in the Kingdom of Heaven – that they love one another.
Maundy Thursday is about the story of the Last Supper, but the Last Supper included more than just the bread and the cup. Our liturgy isn’t simply another recitation of the Eucharist. On this night we take part in one other activity that was modeled by Jesus on that most holy night. We will wash on another’s feet. You’ve just heard the story. We know how in the middle of dinner, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and took on the dress of a table slave. He bent down and did the most demeaning thing anyone could do, he washed the dirty, dusty, stinky feet of his disciples.
After he finished, he put his robe back on, symbolic of his role as a Rabbi, and began to teach them about what he had just done. Almost every English translation of the Bible has Jesus telling his disciples, “I have set an example for you, that you should also do as I have done to you,” but that’s not the entirety of what he was saying to them. No, the Greek word that gets translated as “example” can also mean “pattern.” Whereas an example is a thing you do once to show somebody how to do a thing, a pattern is about an ongoing standard of behavior. Jesus didn’t wash his disciples’ feet as a one-off example that they too should wash feet, although once a year we brush off that example. Rather, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to offer them a pattern of sacrificial love. He established for them what he hoped would be a life-long commitment to loving service. In so doing, Jesus assured them that he, and by extension the Holy Spirit, would be an ever-present pattern for them to follow, especially when the going got tough.
Tonight, you, like me, may want to having nothing to do with this whole foot washing exercise. Or, you might be feeling a bit timid about it. Perhaps you are giving thanks that the Church chose to repeat the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup rather than the foot washing thing each week. Maybe this is your favorite service of whole church year. I don’t know, you might be strange like that. No matter if you are dying to wash someone’s feet or would rather die than do it, it isn’t the example of foot washing that is important. Maundy Thursday, which comes from the Latin for Christ’s mandate to love, is about the pattern of love that the example foot washing enacts. It is about the reality that Jesus’ whole life can serve as a pattern for our lives as his disciples. It is about the promise that the Holy Spirit is here among us to help us follow the pattern, to show us where the outline turns and where the red might need to fade to a lighter shade of pink. It is about the patterns of behavior that bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.