Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Maundy Thursday

Read the Gospel of John 13.1-17, 31-35

The Last Supper in John's gospel puts the emphasis on 'service', not sharing bread and wine.

Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. At that time of history there were no sidewalks or paved streets and no 'shoes' as we know them. So, walking on dusty, muddy roads in sandals play havoc with your feet. It was the custom to have water and towels available in your home for guests to wash their feet. It kept your home cleaner and gave the guests a chance to feel 'clean'.

Today there are some cultures who leave shoes by the front door and don't wear them inside. That is the modern equivalent of that first century practice.

But the host was not the one who washed people's feet--they did it themselves.

Yet Jesus washed his disciples feet--in spite of their objections. Humility and Service, good lessons to learn of this holy day.

Humility and Service. And the courage to 'be served'. Hard lessons, but holy ones.

Maundy Thursday is my favorite holiday. Usually because, in the other gospels it is about the institution of the Eucharist.

This is such a hard time and bizarre Holy Week that I thought I'd share a sermon from long ago, from simpler times, which touches on what we will miss this year. Hopefully, it will make us appreciate what we miss more when it can return.

Maundy Thursday 2008

          Maundy Thursday is always my favorite holy day

          And I always talk about eating.

          And often I get too long winded and go on and on and people wonder when I’ll ever finish.
          Something about ‘meals’ keeps me talking beyond what is necessary.

          So, this year I wrote it down so it would be controlled and less than 10 minutes and you wouldn’t have to wonder if I’d wandered off into some crack in my brain and wouldn’t be back for a while!

          Easter dinner is special in our home. We aren’t surrounded by ‘family’ so we have invented a ‘family’ for holidays. We have friends who come to share our table on Thanksgiving and Christmas and, most of all, for me, on Easter.
          John will be there—a friend of mine since college who lives in New Haven and is a Warden at Christ Church. West Virginians through and through—John and I. We have a patois that is Mountain Talk that few can follow if they didn’t grow up in that lush and deserted place.

          He’ll call me and say, “Hey, Jem….”

          And I’ll answer, “Hey, Jonn…” and we’re off and running about the dogs that won’t hunt and the crazy aunts and stuff no one else understands.

          Jack and Sherry will be there—our friends who we met when we lived in New Haven. They are southerners—Virginia and South Carolina. They usually bring a country ham and dandelion risotto for Easter dinner. But they’ll be getting back from a trip to Italy and Greece and won’t have time to cook this year.

          I know John and Jack and Sherry as well as I know myself. We rub against each other in ways that make life make sense.

          And Mimi will be there. My ‘princess’, my love, my precious girl. She is nearing 30 but she is still my baby girl. An hour with Mimi is like an eternity in heaven for me. I love her so. She is so wondrous—did you know she has become a girl scout leader in Brooklyn for young girls from the projects? She raises money for the American Ballet Theater for a living, but she embraces young girls who need a mentor to make her life meaningful. She is so precious to me I can hardly speak of her without weeping. And she will be at the table.

          This year, we will have ‘family’. Uncle Frankie and his son, Anthony—Bern’s favorite cousin, and his daughter Francis and her life-partner Lisa will be at the table. They hale from West Virginia but all live in Rhode Island now. They will be there, bringing memories and stories that would otherwise not be there.

          And that is what the meal is about, after all, the telling of stories to help us ‘remember’ and to give us hope to go on. And we will eat the ham and the onion pie and the deviled eggs and the salad and the scalloped potatoes and tell the stories and be present—so remarkably present—to what is alive and real and wondrous, even in the sad stories of Aunt Annie’s death and the fact that Josh and Cathy and our granddaughters, Morgan and Emma are in Taiwan this Easter and not with us. They will gather around other tables—not to celebrate the resurrection because they are either Buddhists or nothing at all—but they will gather around a table to eat and tell stories and love each other and be present—so present—to the heart of God.

          That’s what this night is about. How being around a table, sharing food, telling stories, loving each other, hoping for the future, wondering what happens next….

          That’s what this night’s about. A table set and full of food. Family and friends gathered. Passing the bread, sharing the wine….wondering what will happen next.

          Because Jesus sat around that table so long ago and shared his body and his blood with those he loved and those he would never know.

          Just sitting at a table, eating with those you love, is a holy thing. A holy thing. A holy thing.  Remember that always. Remember that. Remember…  

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.