It’s That Simple and it’s Not Easy
I worked in the service industry for many years after college, working in restaurants and for caterers as a waiter. Later I moved up and worked as a bar tender, and I learned quickly that bartenders are more respected than waiters. Even within the service industry there’s a hierarchy of positions.
There’s a hierarchy in the service industry, in business, there’s a hierarchy; in many religions, in governments, between countries, and in our culture as a whole. Most societies operate this way, and it was no different in first century Palestine. There are people at the top and people at the bottom. Like a pyramid, There are a few people at the top, and an immense number right at the bottom. Those at the bottom are the very bottom are the one who people perceive as the useless ones — people with disabilities, people maybe who are mentally sick, people out of work, immigrants.
Peter in this morning’s gospel knew this system all too well and it extends all the way into the home, through the customs of the home. There were things the host did, the guests did and the servants did. Foot washing was common then, upon entering a home the host would provide a basin of water and call upon a servant to help wash his guests feet. When Jesus takes off his outer-cloak, and ties a towel around himself, can you imagine for a moment how strange that must have seemed to them. Jesus is the guest of honor. They’ve followed him, gave up their day jobs fro him, learned from him, witnessing his healings and teaching, and now at supper with him, Jesus stops the conversation, makes heads turn, as he assumes the role of the servant in the room. Can you imagine any guest of honor in your home, walking into your kitchen, reaching under your sink for the Ajax and sponge, and begin scrubbing your kitchen floor.
Peter who is all too familiar with the way things are supposed to be tries to stop Jesus, “You? Wash my feet?” “No! You shall never wash my feet!”
But Jesus, who is forever turning the roles of status upside own, gets on his knees, places the basin of water next to Peter’s feet and with his very hands begins to show his disciples what love looks like. Love looks likes this… let go of your ideas of whats supposed to be, and instead see the need in front of you, and with care, show the person next to you who is no better and no worse than you, the love and care that God shows all of us. It’s that simple.
And yet, it’s not that easy.
If you’ve ever attended any Maundy service where’s there’s foot washing, you’ll hear almost every person in the room apologize for the state of their feet. I should have clipped my toes, sorry about the bunions, the calluses, dried cracked skin on the heels.
Our feet are a great metaphor for our lives. If we’re lucky they still work and yet we take them for granted. They get us from here to there and back again. They hold us up and they get tired. The get old, they show signs of wear and tear and they are imperfect. When we expose our imperfections to the world and place them in the hands of the person next to us, we often feel exposed, apologetic and vulnerable.
But when we assume the role of servant, we gather up all the imperfections of the other just as we’ve been gathered by Christ. And the transforming power of love, expressed through us, will let that person know they are seen, accepted, perfect in all of their imperfections, held, forgiven and washed clean, rested and prepared for another walk around the block, or wherever life takes them next.
This is what love looks like.
At the end of every worship service the charge is to go out into the world and take what you’ve witnessed in worship, heard here, experienced here and bring it into the world. But the world seems off limits right now. We’ve been asked to stay home. But, right now, staying home, is an act of service. The very act of staying home right now is an act of love for the good of those who are most vulnerable among us. We place the feet of those most vulnerable into the hands of Christ and we trust that although we no longer meet in a church building, we are still the church, and we can express our love for neighbor by remembering that one life matters, all lives matter, and none of us, no matter what age is expendable in the eyes of God.
I know many of you, myself included, want to do more than stay at home. And some of you are shopping for the older among us. Some are making phone calls, writing emails, getting on Zoom, some like Kathleen and Michael are even providing chaplaincy meals while following the rules of physical distancing. Not all of us can do what Kathleen and Michael can do. But we can generously donate, we can reach out form the comfort of our couches, we can connect for one another, in the church, but also in your community around you, and even within your extended family, perhaps reaching out to the ones you haven’t connected with for years. Whatever the connection, wherever the connection is made, especially from home, we remain the body of Christ.
Here’s what you do, says Jesus. Not here’s what you say, here’s the scripture you read, here’s how you pray,, heres what podcast to listen to , here’s what you do, you serve one another, you love one another.
It’s that simple and it’s not always easy.
The more we witness people getting sick and people dying, the more likely we are to feel the anxiety of our own well being and the well being of this we love. And when anxiety and fear creep in, we feel we’re losing control, so try to regain control, sometimes in all the wrong ways. We lash out, we become short tempered. We begin to try find ways to be control around the house. Some of us clean more, cook more, some of us become tired and stare at the walls trying to figure out what to do next, depleted of energy. And we’re reminded once again that we’re not really in control, of anything except our response to fear and anxiety…..
And so we enter the story once more….
And in walks Jesus, into our homes, into our most intimate setting. Into the place where we let it all hang out. The sweatshirt with holes, the dirty hair…the mismatched socks, the gas you let out, teeth you floss and watch as the stuff from inside your teeth stick to the mirror. Home is the place we let go. Home, is not the place we put on polite airs. Home is the place we let our bare feet get cold one minute and warmed under a blanket the next. Jesus enters into that place especially now….
Jesus enters into our places of the heart which are most vulnerable. And in these moments of fear and anxiety, we’re reminded that to place our feet in the basin of water he offers us is to trust now, that we’re held.And in being held, we also hold.
Our hands are given to us by God, and they can do many things. They can touch and heal and manifest love or they can hurt and strike and form clench fists.
To love one another from home means to allow our hands to open in vulnerability, to bring us into compassion for those who are suffering, to carry a metaphorical basin of water and allow compassion to wash away all the calluses of the heart. All the complaints, the blame, comparisons to other nations.
It’s that simple, and it’s not easy. Moving from fear to trust happens through the transforming power of love, which is also Christ. It’s a love that understands your pain and your needs, a love which celebrates the simple joys throughout the day, a love which empowers you to love others and a love that calls you to be, and to be yourself.
And Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? if I have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet…. Knowing this, if you do it, you shall be blessed.”