Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Good Touch of Maundy Thursday

Welcome back from your break to spring at Kent.  Well, it’s supposed to be spring.  There is little evidence of the bright season, despite what the calendar tells us (spring is allegedly two weeks old).  But, more dependably, we can say that this is Holy Week, a time when Christians from all over the world are remembering and celebrating the events at the end of Jesus’s life.  Holy Week began last Sunday with Palm Sunday.  On this day, Jesus is hailed as a messianic king, with the crowd waving palms as he enters Jerusalem on a donkey.  If you attended a Palm Sunday service, you were given palms to commemorate this triumphant entry, just before Passover.  Palm Sunday is a day of seeming triumph, but everything is turned upside down by the end of the week.
So what happens tonight?  Instead of doing king-like things, Jesus instead washes the feet of his disciples.  Jesus knows he is going to die, and he decides to humble himself, in preparation for the cross.  Amazing things do happen this week, but not the ones people were looking for.  Jesus fails by the standards of the world.  How often do we miss the wonders of our own time because they’re not what we’re looking for?  I think there is a reason we tend to miss the important events of this week, and the way that they can transform us.  It is our tendency to avoid or to look away from the painful elements in our lives.  But avoidance of pain can create more pain, in ways both large and small.  In Holy Week, we embrace the painful end of the life of Jesus, and in doing so, we directly engage the broken parts of our own world.  And the broken parts in ourselves.  We go against our instincts, faithfully—and we move by faith into the darkness.    
So tonight we follow John’s gospel where, instead of celebrating the Last Supper as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  This evening is called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin, because of the mandate Jesus gives us this evening: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”    
Tonight Jesus transforms conventional concepts of power.  Powerful people, would be kings, are not supposed to wash people’s feet.  Jesus chooses the role of the servant, the lowest of the low.  Many of our concepts are shaken this week; here power and weakness are not what we think they are.  Jesus washes the feet of his disciples out of love.  Where power ends, love begins.  Perhaps being weak is not the opposite of being powerful, after all.  Love turns things upside down.  Consider all of the kings of history who are forgotten, yet there remains something still to be learned from a messiah who would suffer. 
Everything I’ve said so far is serious.  Holy Week is serious; it can hit you in a deep place.  But the truth is that tonight is the least stressful chapel of the year for me.  It’s a wonderful mess when we take Jesus at his word, and start washing each other’s feet.  Foot washing is kind of goofy; it’s funny; it’s more than a little weird; and it sometimes goes on for too long.  Our feet are mostly hidden in shoes, where we think they belong.  And it’s no longer normal to have your feet washed, as it was at the time of Jesus. 
Among the washers tonight, some program notes: Dr. Greene’s foot washing is notable because he adds a little foot massage.  And Father Schell is much more than a foot washer, he’s more like a weather system.  Watch his moves carefully, because it looks like rain. 
Foot washing is a new kind of language, one which you learn best through experience. 
            When I was in college, many years ago, I worked for two summers at an Easter Seals camp for the disabled in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.  I worked as a counselor, and many of our campers had severe disabilities.  We provided care for the campers, meeting all of their daily needs.  It was hard work, full of multi-tasking.  Several weeks into my first summer, I learned that the campers were watching us very carefully, and placing us into one of two categories: good touch vs. bad touch.  You can easily imagine what these categories might signify.  Helping a person eat, dress, bathe, everything.  Do you do it with good touch or bad touch?  Do you treat them as a person or as an object?  Good touch, in all of its forms, was about honoring another person’s humanity—and seeing them as a human being of value. 
            The foot washing tonight is about honoring the humanity of the person right in front of you.
Things you don’t have to worry about while you’re getting your feet washed. 
College acceptance or rejection.  You start with value as a human being.  You don’t lose it or gain it based on what some college has to say about you.  We forget this so easily, but a simple ritual can bring it back.  If you got some rejections over the break, you can bounce back, right now, with a 2,000 year old foot splash.  It could be just what you need.   
You don’t need to worry about politics tonight, or where you’re from, or even what religion you are.  All are welcome. 
Pain and disappointment in your life are still here tonight, but they’re different.  Something has changed.  A door is opened.  Tonight is about how we treat each other; how we discover God--where God really is in our lives.  On his last mortal night on earth, Jesus chose a foot washing for his disciples.  So we move by faith into the darkness tonight, and Good Friday tomorrow.  Tonight we honor Jesus by accepting his mandate, and we honor each other and our common humanity with the good touch of Maundy Thursday. 
 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   

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