- Music Video: I Do by Musiq Soulchild
- Music Video: I Do by Jessie James Decker
- Poem: Do Not! (excerpt of full poem at Poetry Foundation) By Stevie Smith
… Oh know your own heart, that heart’s not wholly evil,And from the particular judge the general,If judge you must, but with compassion see life,Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.
- Poem: Bread (excerpt of full poem available on Poetry Foundation)
By W. S. Merwin for Wendell BerryEach face in the street is a slice of breadwandering onsearching …
- Poem: My Cup by Robert Friend
They tell me I am going to die
Why don’t I seem to care?
My cup is full. Let it spill.
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.”
In today’s readings, we hear many claims of people being anointed and raised up as leaders, such as King David. And we listen to the prophecy of a coming Messiah. We also hear God’s promise to a whole nation of people, not just those descended from Abraham, but those who share in that same love and faith.
The definition of CHOSEN is broken open, wider and wider, with every generation. Grace overflows. It cannot be limited or contained by our categories and linguisitic terms. Who is CHOSEN by God? As ever, I am grateful that God has the final word, not me.
And yet, I believe the invitation to be in relationship with God, and the work of the Holy Spirit all over the world, channeling the embodied love of Christ, is bigger than we can imagine, and will not be stopped. Christ could not be stopped by locked doors or fearful hearts, when he returned from death. That love will not be stopped by our national borders or political barriers or human desire to control and dictate who belongs inside or outside the circle of community.
Today is also Palm Sunday. In this part of the Lenten cycle, the beginning of what we call Passion Week, we focus on stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a white pony or donkey. It echoes the path of a king coming home. Or offers an inversion of that story. At First Church in Ipswich, MA, the congregation walks along the Ipswich river behind a rider on a pony. We sing and carry palms, waving them, recreating a small measure of the jubilee this day must have offered to Jesus and his followers, at least for a short time.
Yet this attention, this triumphal process 2,000 years ago, also heightened tensions in an occupied city, governed by a distant emperor, with uneasy governors in power there. This procession could be considered political, so that it drew attention to a man who already risked his life. Indeed, the nature of his death was a political execution. So along with the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, we hear underlying concern for what is coming next.
When we turn toward a connection with God, and sometimes even when we would rather say no, we are each CHOSEN. We are adopted and desired and beloved of God.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary:
- Psalm 89: 3– You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,I have sworn to my servant David.
- Psalm 89: 19b-20a –I have exalted one chosen from the people.
I have found my servant David.
- Romans 4: 16 –For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us.
- Matthew 1: 21 — She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.