A Pattern of Love – Maundy Thursday

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.

Advertisements

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.

christ-washing-the-feet

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.

Maundy Sunday

no_feet_washing_in_the_sink_sign_thailand_postcard-r03d5937304fd485a85ef6a1c570b27ce_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Maundy Sunday, or the Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C, might be my favorite lectionary day of the year.  You get all the Mandatum, with none of the pedilavium, which suits me just fine.  Now granted, the Gospel lesson is weak on details, so a sermon on John 13:31-35 is going to require a good bit of contextualization.  We’re back at the Last Supper, which in John’s Gospel takes place on the day before the day before the Feast of Pentecost.  Jesus is offering his disciples a final set of instructions: preparing them for life without him.  He’s washed their feet.  Judas has realized that things aren’t going to end the way he hopes they would, and has gone off to broker a final deal with the Jewish leadership.  Peter’s has denied that he will thrice deny Jesus, and it is here, in the midst of confusion, frustratoin, anxiety, and not a little bit of dread that Jesus says:

A new commandment I give you.  That you love one another.

Here again, the preacher has the opportunity to expand on this bare bones story a bit, by explaining that, in fact, there is nothing new about this commandment from Jesus. In the midst of a long list of sexual, ritual, and moral holiness codes, God is very clear in Leviticus 19.18 that our underlying motivation for all of these we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

Given that we will hear this story outside of its usual context on Maundy Thursday, the preacher has a real opportunity to dig deep into what it looks like to follow this mandate from Jesus.  How, in real life, in 2016, in an increasingly polarized America, do we really love one another?  Is it possible to accept this commandment?  New or not, it seems to be as simple as it is impossible to achieve.  What will it take in order to offer the world the sort of love that Jesus gave in his life, death, and resurrection?  Looking back at this Maundy Thursday passage through the lens of the empty tomb will offer our congregations insight into what real agape love looks like.  How does the overwhelming grace of God fit into it all?  What role does the Spirit play in following this commandment.

Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a short passage that seems chock full of heady etherealism, but with some intentionality, a strongly practical sermon on love can be found.  Who knows, it might even be what our people need to hear.

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.”

christ_washes_apostles_feet_monreale

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 Pentecostal Mandate

Even if their congregation doesn’t do footwashing on the Thursday before Easter, the average Episcopalian is at the very least familiar with the themes of Maundy Thursday.  If you’ve read this blog for long enough, you’ve learned that the word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the word “mandate.”  The mandate of Maundy Thursday is Jesus’ New Commandment, that we love one another.  Two weeks ago, we heard that mandate echoed as Jesus continued to give his disciples their final instructions, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  On Sunday, as the Church gathers to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, we’ll hear yet another mandate, this time not from the lips of Jesus, but from the authors of the 1979 Prayer Book (who, according to Marion Hatchett, borrowed heavily from the Gelasian sacramentary of c. 7th or 8th century).

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer might be asking God to help the Holy Spirit move her way across the globe, but the onus sits squarely on our shoulders.  The Holy Spirit will be spread, at least according to this Collect, by the preaching of the Gospel.  The mandate is clear, we must preach the Gospel.  The problem is that we’ve so compartmentalized the Gospel that the average church-goer either has no idea what it looks like or has an insanely specific understanding of it.  You’ll hear, for example, that Saint Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words,” so good works are all we really have to do.  Some will argue that marriage equality is the Gospel, while others will argue that feeding the poor is the Gospel, and still others will say that amendment of life is the Gospel.  Each of these are a part of what the Gospel message calls us toward, but none are, in and of themselves, the Gospel that the Collect for Pentecost Day would have us preach.

The full Gospel can be summed up in several different ways, but I find it helpful to go back to an earlier teaching from Jesus in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever puts their trust in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  The Gospel is the story of God’s love made flesh in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That love changed the world by changing the hearts of human beings.  That love will compel us to do good works, to seek justice for all people, and when we sin to repent and return to the Lord, but the first step, the Gospel that will set the Spirit free, is to recognize and put our trust in God’s unending love.

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”