Lent Day 44: SERVANT

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.

washingfeet1This 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.”

Lent Day 26: CELEBRATE

It’s early in the season of Lent to contemplate a word like CELEBRATE, yet that’s the image that rises up in today’s texts. And after all, while people often associate Lent with a solemn time of fasting and deprivation, it can also be a time of lightness and being present. It can be a timing of giving, versus giving up. It can be cause for celebration.

day26Perhaps we should consider why we celebrate. In Joshua, the Israelites mark Passover, which is always a time of remembrance of Exodus, and their liberation from slavery. It is both bittersweet and joyful, it has a sense of obligation and ritual, but it is also an important time of family gathering and community-building.

In Psalms, people are invited to rejoice and shout for joy from a place of righteousness. I would interpret this to mean celebrating once we are in right relationship with God, self, and other people, as well as creation.

Finally, in the parable in Luke, the feast is laid when one son returns after an absence that his family experienced as if it were a death. His homecoming has the element of resurrection in it, a return to life and renewal of connection with everything that gives meaning to his life.

Remember, it’s too soon to say Alleluia … we don’t say that until Easter. Yet we are preparing for this day, for the time when Love overturns death and returns into the world to meet us where we are. Isn’t every communion both a remembrance and a celebration? And doesn’t every meal, shared with others, hold this same potential?

So in this season, celebrate with intention. Celebrate thoughtfully. But do celebrate. This, too, is a spiritual practice.

Excerpts from today’s Biblical passages:

  • Joshua 5: 10 — While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
  • Psalm 32: 11 — Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
  • Luke 15: 31-21 — Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Lent Day 24: DRIED

lent24_dry_fishToday’s word is DRIED. We often refer to the embodied connection between people and God. Such metaphors place us in our earthly, messy, physical world. They plant us inside our own mortal, fleshy, vulnerable bodies.

When something is dried out, it is withering and dying due to lack of moisture. Or it has been deliberately preserved by removing fluids.

How do people dry out? What depletes us? Sometimes it’s real; we are thirsty. In literary terms, often it’s about lack of energy: mental, emotional, or physical.

lent24_dried_broken_earthIn this case, the Psalmist equates green, fertile soil and waters with life, and dry, parched places as sites of wasting, weakness, suffering, and death. Famine and drought was often a theme in the agrarian societies of the Bible, and the risk of starvation and suffering and death was real. Wandering in the desert, the deadly wilderness where Israelites were lost for 40 years, was also part of one of their greatest narratives: Exodus. Restoration of strength and vitality comes when we have access to Godself and the benefits that come from God.

And yet, at other times in these texts, dry ground is the path to safety. For instance, in Joshua, it was the crossing point through waters that otherwise overwhelm, such as the Jordan or the Red Sea. Life came with release from bondage, and trust in God’s goodness and power, through a covenant relationship.

Ultimately, Gospels and the writings of Paul compare Christ to a wellspring of water. Our Messiah’s love and grace serves as a font of life, too. Baptism, one of our sacraments, includes water. The sacrament of communion includes juice or wine, the liquid drawn from the pulp and flesh of the fruit of the vine, representing also the life and blood of Christ. We have a long history of encounters with water and wine among people of faith.

When you have felt withered and dried up, whether emotionally, psychologically, or physically. What revived and restored you? In what way do you need to be connected to yourself, to others, to creation, or to your God? Often disconnection is the source of the drying-up.

During Lent, we encourage disciplines of self-care, reflection and spiritual practices. These can be ways of seeking renewal.

As you renew yourself, you are also capable of caring for others. Caring for others, thinking and doing for others, is another focus of our spiritual Lenten practices. We can become wellsprings of resilience and hope for others, too. We can refresh other people, and parts of the world, with our choices, words, and acts.

  • Psalm 32: 4 — For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
  • Psalm 32: 3 — While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
  • Joshua 4: 14-24 — For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,which he dried up for us until we crossed over.
  • 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15 — 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

Ash Wednesday, Lent Day 1: HEART

feb10_lent1_ash_heartMeditation

Today we receive the hopes and passions of last year’s palms, burned now to a carbon dust. One thumbprint’s measure, worn like a tattoo, but without the conviction of ink on skin.

From ashes we once arose, and to dust our bodies shall someday return. In between … might we be stirred to life once more by the Breath of God?

Selections from today’s scriptures call out to the heart. Yet not just any heart … a heart broken open. A heart rent by weeping and mourning. A world-weary, beaten-up, endured-too-much heart. A contrite heart. A clean heart. A treasured heart. A returning heart.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Joel 2: 12-13a — Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
  • Psalm 51: 10a, 17b — Create in me a clean heart, O God. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 — but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God …
  • Matthew 6:21 — For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.