Thursday, March 20, 2008
N.B. Or, for a more compelling version, check out "Jesus Christ Superstar" on YOU TUBE
I was in my second year of seminary when I first hurt my back. I was in church. I had simply bent down to replace the hymnal in the pew rack and I couldn’t get up. Just like that, my life for the next two weeks would be viewed mostly from a horizontal position.
Except for having babies and perhaps, an occasional bout of the flu, I had never been in bed for more than 12 hours at a time. To make matters worse, it was Reading Week at seminary.
Reading Week. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It conjures up images of sitting around in comfortable clothes, curled up on the sofa with stacks of wonderful books.
I had an oral exam to study for, two take home exams, and two term papers to write. I was beside myself. I had to miss church that Sunday, lying in the only place that was comfortable – a mat on the floor in the living room. Everyone else went off to church, leaving me to drift off into the La La Land one only gets to visit when taking a combination of muscle-relaxers and codeine.
A few hours after everyone got home from church, I ventured from my place on the floor to make a trip to the bathroom. I looked out our living room window and saw something that made me gasp in horror. It was Emmett, the rector of our church and my field education supervisor, coming up the street, his 'capa nigra' flapping in the stiff Cambridge breeze, his black beret on his head, balancing a prayer book and a home communion kit.
Ms. Conroy looked out the window and said, “Oh, it’s Emmett!”
I gasped again. “What the hell is HE doing here,” I demanded.
Ms. Conroy looked at me as if I had just landed from outer space. “He’s probably bringing you communion.”
“Oh, no!” I said, “Not that!”
Ms. Conroy, in her infinite wisdom, chuckled and said, “Everyone else needs Jesus and healing prayers, but not you, right?”
Oh, no! Not that! Sound familiar? I sounded just like Peter when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. I was mortified by my own undeniable need. More than that, I was horrified that my need should be so transparent, so obvious by the fact that home communion should be brought to me.
Oh, no! Not that! I bring communion to others. No one brings communion to me.
I lay hands on others for healing. No one does that for me!
Some of us are very good about repeating the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
We’re really good about the first part – doing unto others – but we’re really lousy about the second part – having them do unto us.
Is it pride? Well, yes, that’s the easy answer. And, it’s only one part of the answer.
The heart of the matter is that, if our impulse to help others doesn’t come from an understanding of our own need, our own humility, it is more an act of simple human kindness than it is authentic ministry of Jesus.
Simple human kindness is the basic minimum standard. Doing kindness from a place of deep humility is the high standard of Jesus. “A new commandment I give you”, said Jesus, “love one another as I have loved you.” Love that comes from the place of deep humility that makes transparent our need of others.
And so we come to Maundy Thursday – Maundy from the Latin “maundatum” or commandment. Tonight, in one of the first of the “three holy days” before we enter ever more deeply into the mystery of God’s love for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, tonight we practice that humility in the humbling act of foot washing.
I will was the feet of the Senior Warden. Then he will wash my feet and that of our Junior Warden. Together, they will wash the feet of the Vestry members who are here, who will take their turn washing your feet. You will wash each other’s feet.
Then, we’ll celebrate Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, the last time it will be celebrated before the Great Vigil of Easter, just as Jesus celebrated with his disciples at that last Passover Meal in that Upper Room.
We’ll strip the altar and shroud it in a black cloth while the choir chants the 22nd Psalm. At the end, the door will slam and the organ will wail and the church will be in darkness.
You’ll be invited to keep Vigil in the Garden, there, loving set up for us by Betty and Powell, as they do every year. It is their act of deep humility, born of their need to be of service to their sisters and brothers in this community.
But first, we begin in obedience. We begin by following the New Commandment of Jesus to humble ourselves and wash each other’s feet. We begin by admitting our own need, facing into and claiming our own humility.
A simple act of human kindness will become an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual acknowledgement of our own human need to be of some service to each other.
We will begin to learn how to do the ministry of Jesus Christ who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
You have a choice, just as Peter did. You can say, “Oh, no, not that!” Or, you can slip off your shoes, take off your sock, and come forward, in all humility, to be served that you might serve, in the name of Jesus, a simple act of human kindness.
Tonight, in following the commandment of Jesus, a simple truth is laid as bare as the altar will after it is stripped: In a culture which cherishes ‘rugged individualism’, every single last one of us needs the unconditional, humbling love of Christ in each other.