Love’s Downward Motion

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; John 13: 1-15

This evening marks the beginning of this three day retreat as it was meant to be, when the great feast and the hour that Jesus had anticipated had finally come together.  If you were at the Seder Meal you know it’s true of our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as they prepare for their great feast beginning at sundown tomorrow.  They don’t gather simply to remember with a sense of nostalgia of days gone by, the good old days or anything like that.  Rather, there’s a retelling of the story to make it our own, in this very moment, when once again the great feast and the hour join in the person of the incarnate Love.  We open with this first Easter prayer with the washing of the disciples’ feet as we hear in John’s Gospel.

Jesus seems to move now with great intention towards his own moment just as Israel does in this moment of Passover.  They are to eat with great urgency and intention as they enter into this exodus experience.  As the reading tells us today they find themselves in Egypt without any ability whatsoever to love Pharaoh for what has been inflicted upon this community.  It’s hard to love someone who has brought about so much pain in their lives, living lives of oppression, and the only true desire is freedom, the Promised Land.  The feast and the hour has come for Israel.  Yet, they don’t even quite know what it is that they seek freedom from or for.  No sooner they find themselves freed from the hand of Egypt they want to go back.  They had become comfortable in their own darkness, pain, and hate towards this way of life.  To love seems nearly impossible.

Yet, thousands of years later the Son comes down from heaven and takes on human flesh for that very reason and tonight, for John, it’s where it all begins to align.  Notice with this gathering, unique to John, all are present.  Not only the one who denies Jesus in that hour but the one who denies.  In this very moment Judas becomes the archetypal character in John’s Gospel.  It even seems to be anticipated by Jesus in this moment.  As the pressure seems to mount, Judas falls for the ways of the world and succumbs to the hostility that seems to have been gathering around Jesus leading to the alignment of the great feast and the anticipated hour.

This is precisely the moment John waits for and anticipates.  Not only does God come down from heaven and take on flesh, become human, but now this same God sets in motion this downward trend to his knees to wash the disciples’ feet before taking the paramount downward trend to the depths of the earth when he faces his own impending death.  Yet, no one is excluded.  This love doesn’t seem to have the boundaries that would have been anticipated or expected of God.  Rather, Jesus gathers at table with not only the one who denies but the one who betrays.  Judas stands as the character who represents the hostility and violence of the world, all that is hated, manipulated, coldness, and hatred, and it’s precisely his feet that are washed.  For John, the great gift of God taking on flesh is precisely that, to love in such a way that this love is even extended to the world who has turned on him.  In an act that appears to them to be quite humiliating, in the washing of their feet, stands as an act of humility that gets down in order to transcend the hatred of the world.  That’s the first Easter prayer that we remember, connect with, and are challenged by in this retreat gathering.  It is this great act of love that is to be modeled in service to even the one who has shown hate and hurt.

And so I ask, who is it that you can’t bring yourself to love?  Who?  Is it a loved one who has hurt you and you still have not been able to forgive?  Get down and wash their feet.  Is it someone who has wronged you in life?  Get down and wash their feet?  Is it me or the Church?  Get down and wash their feet.  Is it the President of this country?  Wash his feet.  Is it the teenagers who seem to be challenging the status quo?  Wash their feet.  Is it someone who has betrayed you in this life?  Wash their feet.  John does not necessarily write to a specific community as the other gospel writers but instead writes in a way that challenges a community to become someone else, to become love incarnate and to love in the way that Christ had shown to his disciples.  When we hold onto hatred, anger, resentment, hurt, and certainly our pride, we remain trapped in Egypt under the hand of Pharaoh.  Like Israel, and certainly the community that John anticipated, they often weren’t even aware of what it was they needed to be freed from nor certainly for the purpose in which they had been created as community.

As we enter into this communal celebration of our Easter prayer, the prayer is simply for the desire to love as Jesus loves.  To call to mind all who have hurt us and all who continue to seem to have control over our lives.  In those moments, all the Peter’s and Judas’s of our lives are called to mind, and like Jesus, we stoop down to the depths of our own being, in what can feel like great humiliation, and ask for the grace of humility to be set free in order to love.  Who is it I still am not willing to love in such a way?  Tonight the feast and the hour have arrived and finally arrive for anticipated change in our own lives.  Who is it?  Wash their feet.

Humble Service

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; ICor 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

One thing that Pope Francis reminds us of all the time is our gospel mandate to serve the poor. He says we are a “Church that is poor for the poor.” Certainly there is a superficial element to it when it comes to material goods and the greed, as he often says that accompanies it in the Western World, but there’s also a deeper meaning to it and a deeper longing that it often comes from deep within us, a place of poverty that yearns for us to be. Our avoidance of it so often in our lives leads us to where we do find ourselves in the world with countries like our own about accumulating while others lack beyond our imagination. It says something about our own poverty and what it is we are being invited into on this three day retreat and how we use the symbols that are a part of these days to lead us there.

On this first night, we hear a familiar gospel from John of the washing of the disciples feet as he too leads them to a place of poverty within themselves in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable position for them. The first symbol we encounter in the passage is Jesus disrobing. For the disciples of that time, something like that would have been scandalous, accompanied by the fact that the leader of this movement will then go on to wash their feet; unheard of. But as this liturgy goes on this evening we will do the same thing to this altar. Before we leave we will leave this space in a rather unusual place. None of us would do it if we were expecting guests in our own homes; we’d want it to look the best and for everyone to see what we’re about. We move away from that place of poverty within ourselves and put on a show. But the service that Jesus mandates this evening is quite the opposite. Disrobing, the stripping of the altar, the bending down, the place of humility calls the disciples and us to a different kind of service.

We are often much more comfortable with the service that we can do indirectly. There’s no harm in it all, but a Church that is poor and for the poor demands something different from each of us, to go out and within to where we are most uncomfortable, most vulnerable, and allow ourselves to be exposed as Jesus does and as we will do to this space as the evening wears on and in turn allow ourselves to be changed. John’s Gospel is predominantly about conversion of heart and it’s done by being led to those vulnerable places in our lives, humbling us, bending down, disrobing, allowing ourselves to be exposed, not to change the other but to allow our own hearts to be changed. We heard that in the weeks leading up to this point with the Woman at the Well, The Blind Man, and the Raising of Lazarus.

It was a concern for Paul as well as we are invited into Corinth today. Paul was aware even at this point that the poor were being separated from the community celebration of breaking bread. The community began to become elitist and separating itself from anyone that it deemed worthy to participate. If they were allowed it was at a different time than everyone else. In many ways, to eat the scraps left over. There was a disconnect in the mandate of the gospel to serve. Although John doesn’t come out of this community, he does originate from one of Paul’s communities and in many ways takes it all a step further. Paul lays the groundwork for this theological basis for what’s going on and then John puts skin to it and makes it real, bringing it down to earth and what it means to serve on a deeper level. It is obvious that Paul and John knew and had allowed themselves to be taken to that place of poverty within themselves and their lives are changed for ever, while remaining connected to their larger story of faith.

That’s what we hear in the first reading today from Exodus and the Passover celebration. Our Jewish brothers and sisters just a few days ago told this very story around their tables. They tell the story not to take them backwards to that place, but rather as a reminder of their story and their own journey, as a people and community, to that place of great struggle and poverty in their lives. They mustn’t ever forget who they are and where they had come from and so the telling of the story and the participation in the great symbols of the faith lead them to a place of change in their own hearts.

These days are filled with many symbols as our the readings we are invited to enter into this day. Some would say that John’s story of the washing of the disciples feet was one used in early baptisms, connecting what it was all about and the service that was being demanded of them. It throws everything off kilter from the other gospels because it’s out of order, happening not during the Passover, that somehow this Christ was breaking through even at this very moment, from the depths of their being, that place of poverty within.

The challenge for us to allow all the symbols to speak to us and to lead us to that place of conversion in our lives. It may be the bending down, the washing of feet, the humbling movement, the stripping of the altar, disrobing as Jesus does. Which of the symbols makes us most uncomfortable? That’s so often the place that God is trying to break through in our lives. This isn’t just about Holy Thursday and all we have made it out to be over the years. Rather, for John, it’s already about Easter. Lent has ended and we enter into the great feast. John is going to ask how we make resurrection a part of our lives in this moment, and this evening it comes in the form of humbling service from that place of poverty within. We are a Church that is poor for the poor, but maybe in ways we don’t always expect. Allow the symbols to speak and to change what it is we hold onto in our lives, now being washed away in the humble giving of Jesus, and as Peter eventually teaches us today, through our humble reception of that giving. That’s the point of change, the point of conversion in our lives.

The Remembered Pain of Love

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; ICor 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

“It is the Passover of the Lord.” We hear that line in this evening’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. In just a few chapters, which we’ll hear at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, the Israelites will embark on one of the greatest, wildest, and toughest journey’s yet as they find themselves in exile and moving to and through the Red Sea. But tonight, it’s the Passover of the Lord. Splatting of blood on doorposts. Sacrificing the lamb. The telling of their story, our story of passing through.

Yet, so often, it seems to be, that the motivation of people Israel has more to do with survival and living, getting by, than anything else. In the larger scheme of their story and our story, it’s no wonder. On this night in the marking of Passover, blood splattered on doorposts, is a reminder of how much death and suffering has haunted their lives and they must never forget. But as it is for all of us, it’s easy to get stuck right there, victims of our own suffering and never passing through; through exodus, through Red Sea, through the Cross. We learn to survive, to just get by in life, just as they so often did. But tonight they remember their larger story and how they must remain connected to the larger story lest they fall prey to victimhood in their own lives. It’s not about stopping there, in their own suffering, learning to survive, it’s about passing through. For them and us, to the Promised Land, to the eternal life promised.

But Scripture and these stories of salvation history must be viewed in their entirety. There is a progression of the human person and people Israel. There’s a set-up that takes place between the old way, a life about survival, and a new way that Jesus teaches, shows, and lives. A movement in motivation and intent that is no longer based on survival and living in the past and viewing life from that lens. Rather, a life rooted and motivated in and led by love. We too can become “stuck” in survival mode, rooted not in love, but so often in fear and pain.

Jesus shows us that in tonight’s gospel from John, in one that we are all familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet. There are no signs of the splattering of blood, nor even of breaking of bread as we hear from Paul this evening. No, rather, in this movement beyond movements, Jesus moves to a vulnerable place, takes off the outer garments, as we will do to this altar as we conclude this evening, no longer motivated by survival but rather in and through love from Love himself. Just think about what it must have been like. Even if they didn’t know crucifixion was about to take place, there was still a building of tension, wary disciples, fearful, missing the point, and yet, Jesus stoops down, becomes vulnerable to them, and washes their feet. One who will betray. One who will deny. Many who will run. Yet, it never stops Jesus from this act of love.

It is the Passover of the Lord. Do this in remembrance of me. Now we don’t splatter blood or sacrifice lambs, but the passover is us as well. In these days when we remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, it is the mystery that we too are invited into in these days and in our lives. “Do this” is even more than breaking bread and pouring wine, lest we separate what we do hear from our daily lives. Throughout our lives we face great suffering beyond the physical pain that we often face. Sometimes the greatest of suffering that Jesus teaches us is letting go of ourselves, our own ego, that often stands in the way of us passing through. Even up to the point when the Israelites were passing through the Red Sea, they were holding onto what no longer was. They had to let go and trust in order to pass through and continue the journey to the Promised Land. It is only by and through Love that they pass through, not free of suffering and loss, but movement to a deeper love.

As we enter into these days of Passion, Death and Resurrection, we pray we may consistently place our lives in the hands of Love so that we may be transformed and hearts changed into love. Do this in remembrance of me. As we pass through, remembering the passion of our Lord and the passion we share it, we enter with hope knowing that life awaits. We, like the Israelites and the larger story we share in, can move beyond our own survival and even the life we want, to a life of love so that all we do is motivated by and lived through Love. We now await that great act of love of the one who’s passion we remember…

Modeling and Becoming Love

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John 13: 1-15

John begins his Gospel with the “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Some scripture scholars would say that this passage we hear tonight and are quite familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet, is the turning point in the gospel and the consummation of that Word becoming flesh and dwelling among them, as he takes off his outer garments, kneels down, and washes the disciples feet. In that one act of love, Jesus consummates the relationship with his disciples and when who he is and what he is about comes together in John’s Gospel. We heard the beginnings of that from Saint Paul on Palm Sunday in his letter to the Philippians, in his beautiful canticle…emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself. Takes off his garments, kneels down, washes the feet of the disciples.

It leaves them quite uncomfortable and bewildered by Jesus’ actions. They don’t know what to make of it and why he would do such a thing, which is why Peter questions. They’re left feeling uncomfortable because they come with certain expectations. Certainly in John’s Gospel, as we will hear tomorrow from that Passion reading, there is a much more kingly approach to Jesus and so watching him in this act of love, even though they don’t see it as that, leaves Peter and the others wondering. Why would this “king” do something beneath them? The status that they expect of Jesus doesn’t match the act of love being modeled and given. They can’t receive the love being given by Jesus. Yet, the very act pushes them to their limits and Jesus gets there where they need to be, on the edge, uncomfortable, where God does some of his best work at bringing about conversion in our hearts, where the Word made flesh breaks in and acts in ways that so often leave us feeling bewildered and wondering.

On these days we enter into, we are often invited into uncomfortable experiences of ritual that often leave us questioning in the same way and can we receive the outpouring of love that is being given to us. We are invited into seeing ourselves having our feet washed. Taking off his outer garments, kneeling down, washing our feet. We are invited into the stripping of the altar, often leaving us uncomfortable because it stretches us from the norm and we’re pushed to look at things differently. Jesus takes off his garments and the altar is stripped to nothing. Taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself, vulnerable before his disciples inviting them to do and be the same.

If you find yourself being pushed this evening and throughout these experiences of some of the most sacred rituals the next couple of days, stay with that. It’s where God wants to meet us. It’s where God does great work. It’s where God consummates the relationship with us, breaking in as Word made flesh, stripping himself of all, vulnerable, humble, conversion happening in ways beyond understanding. I have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s. When we allow ourselves to be pushed to that place of vulnerability in our lives, we become the love that is given. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”