Meditation | One
I tend to look at Maundy Thursday through rose-colored glasses. We come together to hear a feel-good story and remember the night Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment - a commandment about love and serving others. There the intimacy of washing feet and the camaraderie of sharing a final meal together as friends. And while all these things are true - I would like for you to imagine with me that night long ago and feel the tension that is hanging in the air. Tension that is so thick that you could cut it with a knife - heavy with expectation and uncertainty. Jesus and his closest friends were gathered together in the upper room. They had been together for three years, traveling and learning with each other - I’m sure a lot of bonding had taken place - and yet they still weren’t all on the same page.
Peter had entered Jerusalem with Jesus only days before to shouts of Hosanna – Save us! He heard the cries of the people calling for Jesus to be a military leader, the politically powerful Messiah who had come to free the people from the oppression of the Roman empire. Perhaps, that night, as they gathered for dinner, Peter was still hanging onto that hope. The hope that Jesus would crush the Romans and he and his people would be free.
Judas was reclining around the table with the others as well, pretending as if everything were okay. Judas had already met with the chief priests of the Sanhedrin who were out to bring Jesus down. His pockets were heavy with the 30 pieces of silver the priests had given him to betray Jesus. The decision had been made and now he had only to pick the perfect time to turn Jesus over. Maybe Judas was especially quiet that night, avoiding eye contact with the others, trying his best to not act suspicious while keeping his dark secret.
Can you feel the tension in the air?
I bet Jesus could. He knew there were expectations that he would be a conquering king and he knew one of his closest friends would soon betray him. The room was full of conflicting loyalties. Peter wanted Jesus to be someone he was not and Judas had become someone other than who Jesus thought him to be. And there they sat, together in that room. Would anyone be loyal to Jesus in the end?
Although he knew the answer, Jesus the Christ, stood up and took off his outer garment. Kneeling down, he took the position of a slave, a servant, a woman – and began washing the feet of all who had gathered together. The actual, literal, physical body of Christ, showing us what it means to be the body of Christ.
He washed the feet of stubborn fishermen. He washed the feet of despised tax collectors. He washed the feet of prideful Peter and he washed the feet of disloyal Judas. He could have refused. Who would want to wash the feet of someone who wants you to be someone you are not? Who would want to wash the feet of someone who is going to stab you in the back? Not me. But Jesus did. He washed the feet of all gathered and then he said, “I have set an example for you and you should do as I have done.” He continued, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples when you have love for one another.”
Jesus talked a lot about the people on the outside, loving our neighbors and even our enemies- but this commandment was directed toward the insiders, the believers. This - he said - This is how you are to be the body of Christ - this is how the world will know that you are the body of Christ. Everyone will know that you are my church when you love one another like I have loved you.
The body of Christ still can fill a room with tension. The body of Christ, still, has conflicting loyalties. There are some days when I think that the church would be great if it weren’t for all the people - because let’s face it - church people are messy. We want to be servant leaders and we want to love like Jesus, and yet, so often, the body of Christ chooses to put God in a box; to separate ourselves into us and them; to be self-righteous and judgemental. There is a constant conflict between the way of Jesus - and our way - and the body of Christ is divided and broken again and again.
Yet, in spite of our failures and our conflicting loyalties, despite our betrayals and weaknesses, Jesus kneels down and washes our feet. Jesus invites us to his table and tells us there is room for each one of us at his table.
The past two weeks, during the Sunday morning education hour, the children of our congregation have gathered together to learn about Holy Communion, some in preparation for their first communion and others as ongoing learning about this Sacrament of grace. The first week I asked all of the children to make a paper doll of themselves. They used crayons and markers, scraps of paper and yarn. Some made more than one - “A spring me and a fall me,” one girl said. And then we glued them all around the table fashioned out of a cardboard box.
Because when it comes to washing feet and when it comes to the table of Holy Communion, Christ welcomes all. Those with conflicting loyalties, those who deny Jesus, those who stab him in the back; those who think they know everything about the mysteries of our faith and those with so much yet to learn; people who are broken and hurting and people holding it all together - people that look an awful lot like you and me.
The tension of Maundy Thursday is a beautiful reminder of where our loyalties should lie.
May the world see Jesus when they see us - and until they do - may we return to the table of Christ, to be forgiven and nourished and reminded of the body we are to become.
Meditation | Two
I have a secret to tell you. I have never ever seen a Star Wars movie. Any of them. At least, not all the way through. It's not something I like to tell people, because there are those who get very offended by my lack of Star Wars knowledge. Last year a friend of mine found out about my secret and was horrified. He demanded that I immediately come over and watch Star Wars (the first one which I learned is actually the fourth one) with him and his family. I sheepishly accepted the invitation and made my way over to their house.
Star Wars is serious business to this family - and so in my honor and in celebration of my first Star Wars experience, they went all out. They set up a projector and projected the movie great big on the wall and hooked up the surround sound, so I felt like I was in a movie theater. There was food and drinks. They made sure I was nice and comfy and handed me a blanket to keep warm. Then, they turned down the lights, and the opening credits began.
Now, there was something I had failed to mention to them. I have this terrible habit of falling asleep during movies. I just can’t seem to help it. And although my friends showed the utmost hospitality by making sure I was nice and comfortable, it was probably the wrong call. Because, it wasn’t ten minutes into the movie and my eyes started getting heavy. But, I knew how excited my friend was for me to see this movie so I took a big drink of my soda and sat up straight. But, soon my drink began to slip out of my hand and my head started to fall back. I didn’t want my friends to see my head jerk, so I decided that maybe if I sunk way down into the couch, they wouldn’t know. I tried to force my eyes to stay open, but all I wanted to do was close them and go to sleep. I tried my best to fight it - I tried to stay awake - but I just couldn’t do it. Sleep won and to my dismay, my friend knew it. My spirit was willing - but my flesh was weak.
Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a similar predicament. They may not have been trying to stay awake to watch Luke Skywalker and the Jedi defeat Darth Vader and the dark side, but their friend Jesus had asked them to stay with him while he faced a different kind of darkness. And I really think that they wanted to be there for Jesus. It’s not that they didn’t care - it’s just that it had been a long, hard day and the disciples were exhausted. Peter, James, John - they may have wanted to keep awake, but they just couldn’t seem to keep their eyes open.
You see, there is conflicting loyalties, an inner struggle, within all of us - a struggle between the spirit and the flesh. The spirit is willing - we want to do what is right and good and pleasing, we want to be loyal to our friends and to our God - but our flesh is often weak. It is true for me and you, it was true for the disciples, and it was even true for Jesus.
It’s not often that we see Jesus weak and vulnerable, but in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus battling his own inner struggle between spirit and flesh. We see Jesus confronting death, fear, grief and a sense of abandonment, both by his friends and, seemingly by God. He is alone, and he begs God to “let this cup pass” from him. And in the same breath, Jesus’ spirit is willing - he utters profound words submitting to God’s will: “not what I want but what you want.” Back and forth, he prays, get me out of this - your will be done.
We know where Jesus ends up. We know which side wins. Although in the moment, Jesus’ flesh was weak, his willing spirit was stronger.
What was it that made his spirit stronger than his weakness?
Some might say - well, he was divine - but that’s the quick and easy answer. We actually find Jesus wrapped in the frailty of his humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think the reason could be this: Jesus had a close and intimate relationship with God and and he knew that he had a divine purpose. His connection and his calling were stronger than the weakness of his flesh.
Throughout the Scriptures we see that Jesus takes intentional time to be alone with God in contemplation. The relationship between Jesus and his God is so tightly woven that even when his flesh is weak, he can say with all certainty, I trust you. I trust you. And because of this connection, Jesus trusts in his divine purpose. He had come to show the world the unconditional, sacrificial love of God.
A relationship, a connection with God isn't something that we just have, or a place that we arrive at. It's a continual act of putting in the time. Just as with any relationship, we have to continually nurture it, day by day, and over time, our connection continues to grow and mature. And, we haven’t all been given a divine calling to sacrifice our life for others - but we all have been given a divine purpose. The body of Christ has been gifted and called to be good news in the world. We are called to love and serve. We are called to bring Shalom, wholeness, to the world. Shalom between God and people, people and people; and people and all of creation.
Our flesh often fails us - but our spirits gain strength when we being to no longer think we have to have all the answers and when we stop trying to be in control of everything. Our spirits grow stronger when we lean into God and trust God to do God’s work through our lives. Isn’t that what faith is all about? We trust God to do God’s best work in us and through us.
May your spirits be strong so that you can stay awake….awake to the world around you that is in need of Shalom; and may you trust God to work in you and through you to make it so.