Maundy Thursday – April 17, 2014
Preacher: The Rev. Jennie Talley, Senior at The General Theological Seminary and transitional Deacon sponsored for priestly ordination by St. Michael’s Church
As a Christian family, we have spent the last 40 days of Lent challenging ourselves. We have taken time to reflect on our life’s path, and have examined how we might adjust our trajectories to take us into a closer relationship with God. And over the course of these weeks, we have been on a closer journey than usual with Jesus. We have been with the woman at the well, thirsting for the living water that only Jesus can provide. We have been at Lazarus’ tomb in Bethany, spending the most intimate time with Jesus, watching as he wept at the grief around him, and mourned for his friend. And then we witnessed the joy of Jesus’ restoring life to Lazarus, in all its full richness, with that remarkable depth of life that only faith in God, along with God’s grace can bring. We processed on the streets, joyfully waving palms while welcoming our Jesus into our Jerusalem. Now on this Maundy Thursday night, from this very minute, from this very sacred moment, we step off together and begin our journey — our journey taking us into the next three days that contain some of the holiest of holy moments to be spent with Jesus.
So together here with one another, gathered as we are right now, we join Peter and the other disciples and mount the stairs to the upper chamber where we see a large table set for dinner. We joyfully sit down, as we anticipate sharing a meal with Jesus. And as we are sitting around the table, enjoying some bread and wine, and good company, Jesus seems to have something weighing on his mind. Then all of a sudden, he stands up, and it startles us as he takes off his heavy outer robe, and ties a towel around his waist. We whisper quietly to each other, “What is Jesus doing?” Then we watch him pour water into a basin, kneel down, and begin washing the feet of the disciple sitting next to us. And he takes the towel at his waist, and gently dries the disciple’s feet with it. Jesus does it very intentionally, and with such loving care.
Peter and some of us are not comfortable with seeing Jesus on the floor, on his knees in the posture of a servant — like a slave no less. Of course it is natural that one drops to their knees before God, but for the Son of God, our Lord, our teacher, to drop to his knees… at our feet… it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like the universe has been thrown slightly askew. And yet on this night, on this very special night, to us his disciples, to us his followers so devoted to him, Jesus wants to teach something very special, something that is of ultimate importance to him. And we start to realize that this is Jesus’ way of starting to say goodbye.
“Let me wash your feet,” he says to Peter. “Don’t resist…. Relax, and let yourself feel God’s love in my gesture. You are worthy, you are good enough,” Jesus seems to say in the act of washing their feet. He then approaches you. “Please allow me,” he says, as he looks up at your face, and smiling, carefully takes your foot. You can only see the top of Jesus’ head, while he looks down at your feet, washing them, then patting them dry.
When we part from someone, when we say goodbye, we often give a piece of ourselves. We hold out our hand, we hug, we kiss goodbye. If we have a close relationship, we might tell that special person, “I love you,” when we wave so long, or hang up the phone. Jesus seems to be giving a piece of himself at the parting, telling us at this moment, “I will be going where you cannot yet follow me. I am preparing a place for you. But in the meantime, know that I love you, and know that through my love, God loves you.” And then Jesus adds something that he does not want us ever to forget. In his bidding goodbye, he wants a real commitment from us. Through washing our feet, Jesus has expressed true love, …true loving through humble attentiveness. And he expects us to realize that love and carry it with us. And the last thing he asks of us, that last important instruction is, “knowing how much I love you, that is the kind of love that I want you to show to each other.” And that is a tall order! It is not so easy to do. And still, through God’s grace, so many are able to do it, and often without even realizing it. But yet, we all know when we have had our feet washed in this way!
My mom had surgery last week, and had prayed with several loved ones for days beforehand. As she was ready to be wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon came in, the surgeon whose caring manner and gentle way had earned my mother’s trust during the consultations. She asked my mother if she would like a prayer before they proceeded. And then this surgeon offered the most beautiful prayer of healing, asking the angels to be in the operating room to guide her hands during the operation. The surgeon asked the angels and Holy Spirit to be there to comfort my mother, and prayed for her quick recovery. This doctor not only performed a successful surgery on my mom that afternoon, but she did it in such a tender, caring way, that my mother experienced an unexpected foot washing, too.
There is a lot of foot washing that goes on around this place. If you have had that sweet chill that travels through your body and straight to your heart when you have been cared for, then you have experienced a good foot washing. The guests that come here to the Saturday Kitchen are not just given a meal in a sack and told to get on their way. No, they are welcomed in with smiles, with heartfelt caring, with hospitality. They are served a wonderful meal in community, and I’m sure in the process, most experience a good foot washing as well. Those of you who serve as Christ’s ministers — who give of yourselves with an attitude of caring — who feed, who sing, who knit, who clean, who polish, who read, who pray, who visit the sick, who send a card, who give a hug with either a smile OR with tears, who organize, who teach, who support, who offer, who accompany, who cultivate, who listen, who write, who donate — you are all foot washers. And we all get our feet washed here, then we walk out those big blue doors, and Christ starts using us to wash others’ feet. We wash feet at home, at work, at the store, at school, or wherever we take our loving hearts with a caring word, or with a thoughtful offering of time. Or when we give our full attention to listening to someone, we are washing feet. This is the miracle of the transforming nature of Christ at work in the world.
Shortly, all of you will be invited to come forward for a foot washing, and perhaps feel the love of God in this very simple gesture. And we all will feel embraced by the loving One that knows no bounds, that has no limits in expressing great love for us, if only we will open up and allow ourselves to feel it. And God has no limits in calling us and in loving through us, just as we are, in our broken places and in our mended ones, in our places of fullness, and our spaces of emptiness, with our fear, and with our courage. We become a circle of love and healing for one another: receiving, then sharing, then receiving, then sharing some more, with Christ in the midst of it all.
So this evening we immerse ourselves in this divine mystery. And after precious feet are washed and dried, we will continue our meal — our holy meal — in this upper room with Jesus. We know how the story continues tonight. The lights will be dimmed, and Jesus will be accompanied to the Garden of Repose in the Angel Chapel where some of the faithful will sit with him in his agony all night long. And on this night of Jesus’ betrayal, as we his disciples spend time in the darkness until dawn with only the light of flickering candles, what would we have to hold onto without Jesus’ empowering farewell message so fresh in our hearts? Where would we turn without his final assuring expression of, “I love you; my own peace I leave with you”? What would we be without his emboldening expectation for us to love one another so deeply?
Jesus told us that we would not be left alone to fend for ourselves. And he has kept his promise, leaving us with so much to cradle, to embrace, and to reassure us, as we sit for a time with him in the sacred darkness.