Friday, March 25, 2016

How low must we go to be raised up? A Sermon for Holy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14
1 Corinthians 6:1-11
John 13:1-17

For all He was about to do – to stand as only the Innocent can, to be beaten to within an inch of His life, AND THEN to be hung up until dead – Jesus, for some reason, still found it necessary to display yet another act of extreme humility. 

Reading this account about the Son of the Most High God, then, and envisioning Him stooping so low – literally and figuratively – to wash the foot of another goes far beyond the act itself.  It is incredibly intimate, deeply personal, and remarkably humbling.  It is about as low as one can go in relating to others.

So as Jesus finishes washing Peter’s feet, our Lord asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?”   Chances are Peter had no more a clue than you or I beyond having witnessed a foot washing, a ritual.  And indeed Jesus tells them they must wash one another’s feet, but what we are seeing has nothing to do with hygiene or foot care.  There is something else going on, something so far-reaching as to have escaped the notice of the Church probably since the time when Jesus did it Himself.  We do it once a year – if then - to commemorate this moment, but in daily living it seems clear we really don’t understand it.

Yet Jesus chastised Peter AND those who would dare to refuse it: “You have no share in Me”. 

So if we are not talking about foot washing, what can we see in this act of extreme humility?  What is missing from the very heart of the Church today that is signified by Jesus in this humble act as a must-do

American poet, Maya Angelou, may have expressed it best: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So how do others – those we consider to be outsiders, guests, unbelievers, non-Christians, or any others who are not like us in any way - feel after having had an encounter with any one of us?  With the Church as a whole?  Do they feel unconditionally accepted … or judged and rejected?  Do they feel comforted … or are they cast out and even lonelier than before? 

It is a haunting question, but it is also a necessary evaluation not only of how we relate to others but, more importantly, how we do so in the spirit of such humble service in the Name of Christ – acting as He did, acting as He would still, acting as He commands.

And this is the point about the deeper meaning in the act.  Until we actually engage in such acts of humility in service to one another, we will never be able to fully understand what it is Jesus wants us – NEEDS US – to know.  Reading it only makes it theoretical.  Actual engagement in the act makes it real.  And this is the essence of faith: trusting Him to reveal it to us as we trust Him to so engage.

It is not about washing feet.  The foot washing represents something much deeper and more far reaching than merely stooping down to wash the feet of another.  The significance of this act comes before THE Act we must allow, THE Act we must engage before we can have a share of Christ Jesus: the Crucifixion.

What can this mean to those of us who do not deny the Crucifixion?  Surely we believe it happened; and every year we hear it and maybe try to understand it.  I think, however, that what Jesus is actually conveying is the depth of His Crucifixion and what it ultimately means.  If it is the forgiveness of sins, then it has to go beyond a single moment, beyond a one-time-and-only-very-general confession.

In order to have that “share” in Christ Jesus, we have to allow the fullness of the Crucifixion; but we do not merely allow Him to die.  Rather we allow Him to take away sin – our own sin.  And not just sin in general, but specific grievances and burdens and deep, dark secrets we continue to bear; for only in this may we expect to reach a point at which we can – or will – excuse the sins of others.  Do you see there is only so much we can do – even if we were so willing - when we are so overwhelmingly burdened ourselves? 

We cannot love unless we know we are loved.  We cannot forgive unless we know we are forgiven.  So if we do not fully love and will not completely forgive, it is likely we have yet to experience the fullness of that love and the depth of that forgiveness.  When we have the weight of sin on our own shoulders, when we are shackled about our necks and having the spiritual life choked out of us, we have only the spiritual energy to worry about ourselves – and often not enough even for this!  We are not at all interested in worrying about or helping others as long as we are so heavily burdened and our own needs so great.

So as Peter allowed Jesus to serve him in this incredible way – even if Peter did not fully understand it at the time – Peter was, unbeknownst to himself, enabled to serve others in the same way.  It is the “example” Jesus left for His Church, His Body; not as a warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good organization of people who like each other as long as they play by our rules but as the genuine Body of Christ willing to love and serve others as we have been so thoroughly loved and served.

Sometimes we worry a little too much about “getting saved” as pertaining to what we are personally saved from and do not spend nearly enough time and thought and prayer and discernment considering exactly what we have been “saved” for

The apostles were still not quite getting what was coming, let alone what it would come to mean; but we have the benefit of knowing we are about to be set free – if we will allow ourselves to be freed!  This includes the sin in our lives we have left buried and ignored for too long.  It is time to allow our Lord to do this thing for us we’ve been aching for, yearning for, but were too afraid to bring up – maybe hoping it would just go away.  Heaven forbid we face it again when all we want to do is forget it and pretend it never happened!

Yet “Unless I wash you”, our Lord says, you have no share in Me”. 

Let it be so, Blessed Savior!  Teach us to face it, confess it, and hand it over to You!  Wash us clean.  Break our chains!  Free us from the anxiety that so weighs us down so we may have that “SHARE” in You that You so freely offer as You call us also to share as freely with others!  By Your Mercy and in Your Most Holy Name, may it come to be!  Amen.  

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