Today is Maundy Thursday of the Holy or Passion Week. As we have mentioned in many postings during Lent, sometimes the scriptures turn our ideas upside down. In today’s texts, we consider the call to be a SERVANT.
This call first asks that we be willing to have others serve us, as well as to be served. It’s harder than you’d think, to be the one that needs or allows someone else to care and support you. It’s hard to accept help, even by having someone else cook for you or wash your feet. After all, letting someone else wash your feet requires that you expose yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and put yourself into someone else’s hands, someone else’s care.
For many of us, it’s easier to be the one doing such tasks for someone else. In fact, even when we are called to be SERVANTS, as long as we’re doing something for someone else, like fixing a problem or taking action, we often feel empowered and somewhat in control.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s tough to be willing to humble yourself to the role of SERVANT. There’s an awesome column in the April 2016 Rotary magazine about an airline executive in an expensive suit, who came to deliver airline tickets to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. He was directed back to the toilets, where she was scrubbing them. Not missing a beat, she assumed he was a volunteer, so she handed him a brush and showed him what to do, and left him there to scrub toilets. He told that story for the rest of his life, because for that brief span of time, he was part of her work and mission.
Those with the greatest earthly political and social authority and power are called to be SERVANTS and disciples, just as are the most humble. Our faith calls us to an ethical accountability to each other, from those we love dearly to those we have never met. We are also responsible for creation’s well-being, starting with this planet.
Jesus’ final commandment, which is one of today’s texts, gives the standard by which we measure our service. It is rooted and channeled as love for one another, as Jesus loved us.
This may sound simple enough, but think about a lifetime of scrubbing toilets for thousands of sick people, and it may take on a new perspective. Yet we don’t all dedicate lifetimes to such pursuits, but we can set aside segments of time and attention to support such work, one way or another. That has certainly been an invitation of Lent.
As God’s people, we are asked to submit, by choice, to the love and leadership of God. In ancient Hebrew writings, this submission was directed toward God, often through God’s representatives, and often in sacred spaces such as the temple. Kings, queens, priests, judges (some judges were women) and prophets bowed their heads, made their confessions, offered their sacrifices, followed the law, and raised up their praise to One with greater power than they could embody. In Gospel texts, submission comes by following God through the embodied, incarnate presence of Christ, who calls himself a servant to those who follow him.
Today, on Maundy Thursday, faith communities offer many spiritual practices that allow us to serve each other. Below are some of them:
- Prepare suppers: light meals at common tables. Often we feature bread and soup. We are cooking and preparing food together, and offering it to each other, serving and feeding one another. We are enacting the final commandment, the great commandment of Christ, to love one another.
- Celebrate communion today, moving from the shared meal to the shared sacrament. During communion, also called eucharist, we offer bread and wine (or juice) as the formal elements.
Hopefully our tables are open and welcoming to everyone. This remains a challenge for many churches, who impose limits on those who are formally invited to partake of the sacraments.
Together we remember and bring into this moment: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus whose whole existence was an act of servitude and passionate teaching and risk-taking for justice and outpouring of transformative love and tender grace.
- Offer foot-washing tonight, following along with the act of servitude and blessing that Jesus offered his followers after the passover seder meal, which we call the Last Supper. This appears in today’s texts.
Jesus washed his friends’ feet physically with water and towel, and washed their lives symbolically, purifying them and blessing them and consecrating them to ministry.
- Prayers will be offered. Ultimately we are seeking “help”, sighing “thanks”, and shouting “wow.” These are the three essential human prayers as suggested by Anne Lamott. Whether spoken aloud or in silent meditation, alone or in community, prayer will open a dialogue between us and Godself, who is eager to be in a relationship with us, and will welcome and hold whatever we share, spoken or unspoken.
God listens. We may not see or know the response we receive, until we look backward across events. And I can admit, we may not like the answer we receive. Yet I believe God hears and answers all prayers.
- Read sacred texts. We can listen to the ancient Biblical stories of our spiritual ancestors, and how they approached encounters with holiness. We can hear the messy, imperfect human ways we bungled our lives and communities, and God found ways to heal and redeem us, whenever possible.
- Creatively express ourselves in worship. We will make artistic offerings of dance and music and poetry and many other creative mediums.
In this way, we use Spirit-given gifts to tell stories to each other, inspired by the themes and events of this Holy Week. Through our witnessing to each other, God continues to speak into our lives, not just through ancient texts, but in new expressions.
Selections from today’s lectionary:
- Psalm 116: 18a — O Lord, I am your servant.
- I Corinthians 11: 24 — 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.”
- John 13: 5 — Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
- John 13: 8-9 — Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
- John 13:34 — I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”