Thursday, April 02, 2015

Feeding and Washing

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Feeding and Washing
            Today we enter the most sacred days of the church year.
            The Church invites us to reflect on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life when he gathered with his friends for one last meal, when he was betrayed and arrested, and when he died on the cross.
            At the same time, let’s be honest, it’s hard for most of us to “be in the moment” because we’re already anticipating – already looking ahead to - Easter.
            Certainly, for those of us who work in and for the church, this is especially difficult since we can’t wait until Saturday afternoon to prepare for Easter.
            One of the things I’m really looking forward to is our Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. It’s one of my favorite services of the year and it will be extra special this year because I’ll have the honor of baptizing two beautiful baby girls, Lena and Michelle.
            This past Saturday I met with the parents of Lena and Michelle to talk about the service and as we were talking I was struck by just how adorable these two little girls are and how much they are loved and cared for by their parents.
            Of course, they love their daughters not because they are commanded to love them, although there are legal and moral commands about that. No, they love their children because that’s the way life is supposed to be – that’s the way we are meant to  be – that’s who we really are.
            It was beautiful to see.
            But, I was also struck by how completely dependent those little girls are – and will continue to be for quite a while – how dependent they are on their parents, who, among other things, will feed them and wash them for years to come.
            Feeding and washing: this is what love looks like.
            If you were in church this past Sunday you know that together we read the Passion according to Mark.
            No matter how many times we hear the story of betrayal, brutality, denial, abandonment, blood, and death – no matter how many times we hear the story of Jesus’ arrest and execution – it never loses its power.
            This innocent man who was God’s beloved Son was rejected by people just like us and condemned to the shameful death of a common criminal, hanging on a cross, crying out to God who seems to have abandoned him.
            It is a powerful story – the most powerful story.
            But, because Jesus’ arrest and death is so powerful and so central it’s easy to miss the fact that all four gospels spend very little time focusing on the cross.
            That’s understandable, isn’t it?  For people who knew Jesus in the flesh or knew people who knew Jesus in the flesh, his death must have been almost too painful to remember and to contemplate.
            So, it’s no surprise that the authors of the gospels would want to avert their gaze, to look off elsewhere, to hurry away from the cross just like most, if not all, of Jesus’ followers and friends did that day on Calvary.
            The gospel writers don’t spend too much time at the foot of the cross.
            But, they do spend a lot of time at the Last Supper.
            Looking back after Easter, the early Church was determined to remember what Jesus did – what Jesus taught – at that somber gathering, that sad and uneasy meal in the upper room.
            And there are two most important things that the Church remembered from that night.
            The first is the feeding.
            Writing a couple of decades later, Paul handed on to the Corinthians what he had learned from some who were there that night:
            Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”
            And then he took a cup and said, “’This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
            Jesus feeds those gathered at the Last Supper and commands us to remember him by feeding each other.
            The Gospel of John – which we heard tonight - gives a lot of attention to the Last Supper but, oddly enough, John actually doesn’t contain anything about the bread and the wine.
            Instead, John tells us lots of other things not found in the other gospels. And probably the most important thing is what we heard tonight, the foot-washing.
            Even after all  these centuries it’s still a little shocking isn’t it? The intimacy of it. The lowliness of it.
            We can easily imagine ourselves being Peter – thinking and saying no way is Jesus going to wash my feet!
            But, Jesus says to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
            And Peter finally get it – and insists that Jesus wash his feet – and his hands and his head, too!
            Feeding and washing: this is what love looks like.
            The God who we know in and through Jesus is a God who loves us like the parents of Lena and Michelle love their little girls.
            The God who we know in and through Jesus is a God who loves us like a parent tenderly feeding us and washing us.
            The God who we know in and through Jesus is a God who loves us enough to die for us.
            And the God we know in and through Jesus is a God who calls uscommands us - to feed each other – to feed not just our own children, but to feed all of God’s children.
            God calls us – commands us - to wash each other’s feet – to lovingly serve not just our family and friends, but everybody, especially the smelliest and the dirtiest and the hardest to like and love.
            Feeding and washing: this is what love looks like.
            This is the gift of Jesus to us.
            Feeding and washing: this is what love looks like.
            Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
            May it be so.