Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14a; Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:1-15, 33-35

Some stories never get old. Some stories do – I love storytime with my son, but right now, I have no real need to ever read Elmo Flies a Kite again!

But there are those stories with such a life in them that they stir the life in us and we can read or listen to them over and over and over again. These stories connect us to the characters within, the people who first told them to us, and the people to whom we will tell them one day. These stories take us places; places we’ve been before and places we still have not imagined. In the words of Dr. Seuss, one of my favorite storytellers, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

For the people of Israel, the story of the Passover would never get old. There was a life about it that stirred the life in them, no matter how many times they heard the story of the night when their ancestors gathered with their families and friends to eat the Passover lamb with their loins girded, sandals on their feet, and staffs in their hands. Oh, the places they would go when God freed them and led them out! As Seuss says, “It’s opener there, in the wide open air.” That night, though, was intimate, terribly and wonderfully personal, and in the telling of the story of that night, the people of Israel were intimately connected with their ancestors and with one another as people whom God had saved and strengthened and sent. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you, God had said, but ever since, the story would be more than a memory of salvation, and the meal more than a re-enactment of a once sacred night. The story and the people who told it came together in the telling, all those lives stirred by God’s wide open love.

For Christians, the story of Jesus’ last Passover will never get old. On the night before he died for us, the story goes, the one we’ve heard over and over and over again, On the night before he died for us, our Lord, Jesus Christ took bread. That night was intimate, terribly and wonderfully personal, when Jesus gathered at the table with his dearest friends and followers to break open the story of salvation. It started out as the story they had heard before, the meal they had eaten countless times, but Jesus would take them to a new place by becoming their Passover lamb. This is my body, this is my blood, do this for the remembrance of me. Oh, the places they would go, that very night and in the days, weeks, and years to come. Ever since, the story has been more than a memory, and the meal more than a re-enactment of a once sacred night, that last Passover, that first Eucharist. In the telling and the eating and drinking, our lives are stirred by grace and love as God continues to save and strengthen and send us out.

The gospel of John tells a different story of the night before Jesus died for us. The setting is an intimate meal among friends, but it is not the Passover, and food and drink are not the central elements. In this story, on the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ washed feet. It is a stunningly personal story: Jesus Christ, the One Through Whom All Things Were Made, stooping low to wash the feet of his friends.

Oh, the places they had been. Their feet were dirty, covered with the grime and dust of the roads they traveled. They were scarred from scuffles with those who constantly crowded Jesus. They were callused and worn from miles of walking, following Jesus as sheep to a shepherd, never quite understanding they were following the Lamb of God.

How Jesus loved those dirty, scarred, callused feet. How tenderly he held them, washed, and dried them, preparing them for the roads and scuffles and crowds yet to come. Oh, the places they would go, proclaiming the good news, preaching and teaching, convicting and challenging, healing and offering hope out there in the wide open air….

On the night before he died for us, Jesus taught us how to tell the story of his love for us, how to stir up and live in that story that never gets old, although it is ancient. By this shall the world know that you are my disciples, Jesus said to his friends that night, by this: that you have love for one another. Love one another as I have loved you. I have set you an example.

We are, Dr. Seuss says, “brainy and footsy” people, capable of great things, able to move mountains. We know in those brains, and in our hearts and souls, that we are part of a sweeping story of salvation brought about by a powerful and protecting God. And yet, although we are “footsy,” we stumble as the disciples did over the simplicity and humility of Jesus Christ, who tells the story with bread and wine and water and a towel. The Good Shepherd turned Passover Lamb, the Master turned Servant, the Host turned Feast. Love one another as I have loved you. I have set you an example.

For those first disciples and for us, the footwashing is really no more about needing clean feet than the Eucharist is about needing a little snack. Both stories are about being loved by Jesus, intimately, personally. Both stories are about being the Body of Christ in the world, loving one another as he has loved us. We are not just remembering or re-enacting the night before he died for us but, rather, entering into a living story, a story that stirs our lives, a story that is still being told whenever we are able to empty ourselves as servants and to fill ourselves with him.

Jesus calls us into intimate, terribly and wonderfully and stunningly personal relationships with him and with one another and with the world. Will we let him wash our feet through the hands of another? Will we eat at his table as friends and followers? Will we watch with him tonight in the darkness of Gethsemane? Will we show the world that we are his disciples? Will we love one another as he loved us? Oh, the places he calls us to go….

“Out there,” Seuss says, “Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening, too.”

As we love, as we serve, as we stumble into humility, we start happening, we become like Jesus, and the world sees. By this shall the world know that you are my disciples: that you have love for one another, just as I have loved you. So now let us return to our story…. (from here we began the footwashing)

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