Thursday, April 13, 2017

Unexpected Turns

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 13, 2017

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

Unexpected Turns
            For me, one of the most appealing, most endearing, aspects of the Gospel is the fact that so often the disciples really just don’t get it.
            Obviously, they all saw something in Jesus, something that they had never seen before, something that inspired them, compelled them, to leave behind their old lives and follow this mysterious teacher and healer from Galilee, the one that they had come to believe was the long-awaited Messiah.
            Yet, throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ closest followers don’t really understand Jesus’ teaching, don’t understand the meaning of his miracles and signs, and they certainly don’t understand – or, maybe, don’t want to understand - that Jesus is going to suffer and die.
            But, we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples because, after all, Jesus’ life and ministry was full of unexpected turns.
            Starting with his miraculous birth to a couple of nobodies to his hanging out with the despised tax collectors and prostitutes to revealing his true identity to the Samaritan woman at the well to raising his friend Lazarus from the dead to allowing Lazarus’ sister Mary to anoint his feet with costly perfume – through it all, Jesus’ life and ministry was full of unexpected turns.
            And, that was true right up to the end.
            Just the other day we celebrated Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the crowd strew palms on the road and greeted the king with shouts of joy.
            At that parade, I’m sure the disciples thought that they had it all figured out.             Here we go!
            Now Jesus would be crowned as king and they would all get powerful positions in the new regime.
            But, instead, now, in yet another unexpected turn, the disciples find themselves eating a last supper with their Lord, a meal that feels more like a wake than a feast.
            The other evangelists tell us about Jesus identifying the bread and the wine with his body and blood, commanding his followers to remember him each time they gather to break bread and share wine.
            But, only the Gospel of John, which we heard tonight, tells us about the foot-washing.
            In yet another unexpected turn, Jesus begins washing the feet of his friends. This is so unexpected – so very “inappropriate” – it’s the work of a lowly servant not a king - that Peter who so often didn’t get it doesn’t get it this time, either, and objects.
            But, Jesus insists that this must be done – and Jesus commands Peter and the other disciples to follow his example of offering this lowly and loving service.
            An unexpected turn.
            It would be nice to be able to say that we’ve done a god job of obeying Jesus’ command, but unfortunately, in our broken world offering this kind of lowly service to the kind of people Jesus hung out with is still pretty much an unexpected turn.
            That’s why we’re surprised when on this day Pope Francis washes not the well-scrubbed feet of priests but the calloused feet of prisoners, the feet of often despised men and women, including even the feet of Muslims.
            An unexpected turn.
            That’s why our sister church offering asylum to people from faraway dangerous places like Syria has surprised so many and gotten so much attention.
            An unexpected turn.
            That’s why the people we feed at the homeless drop-in center are so surprised by, and grateful for, our coffee hour-quality lunch that we serve them once a month.
            An unexpected turn.
            In a moment, I’ll invite you to come forward and let me wash your feet.
            And, a little later, we’ll gather at the Lord’s Table like we always do, but then, in what may be another unexpected turn for you, we will strip the altar and bring the sacrament to the “Altar of Repose,” symbolizing Jesus’ unexpected departure and his night of agony in the garden, anticipating his fate.
            The service will end in silence and you’re invited to stay a while with Jesus in the garden, and ponder these most unexpected turns.
            The Good News, of course, is that there are still a few more unexpected turns in this story.
            But, first, tonight, let’s follow the commands of Jesus.