Friday, March 21, 2008

The Proper of Yesterday: Maundy Thursday

My technology fast is over! After too many days, Service Electric finally got their act together and got my internet turned on. I considered not blogging or anything until after Easter begins tomorrow evening, but decided that keeping to the title of the blog was more important. I will not be going back as I thought I would for the first three weekdays of Holy Week, but I do intend to keep up everything from here out.

The Paschal Triduum started last evening with the proper Maundy Thursday service. We observed it at St. Thomas' and included footwashing as well as stripping of the altar, and reservation of the Sacrament. Here's what I offerred at the Ambo:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

Maundy Thursday 2008 (RCL)

Exodus 12:1-14; Ps 116:1,10-17; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-17,31b-35

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the One who came to serve, Amen.

Well, we’re right in the midst of the 2008 NCAA Basketball tournaments. I don’t know what your favorite teams are. I usually follow Ohio State – football mostly, but also basketball a little bit. Maybe your favorite this year is whoever you drew in your office pool! I’ve always thought its kind of fun to root for the little guys – the wild card entries, the little programs that all of a sudden are doing very well and are now in the tournament, working as hard as they can to see how far they can get. March Madness is a good time, even if your team doesn’t do so well. Getting there has meant a ton of practice for years and years, both as players and s a team. I greatly admire those with athletic ability who have honed their skills, practicing their shooting and defense over years and years. Everyone who gets to the Tournament deserves it, it seems to me. Practice makes perfect, goes the old saying.

And of course spring training for baseball is in full swing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in Florida or Arizona right now? I truly love the seasons, all four of them, but there are times like this week when a little more spring and a little less winter would be really nice. Again, I don’t know who you follow, if anyone. I’ve been a casual Mets fan for a while now. I also play in an online baseball fantasy league. I haven’t submitted my draft picks yet – I have until March 30 to do it, and I admit I haven’t done my homework on who to rank higher this year or not. It’s always a gamble to see if you can pick the rookie who is going to have a huge season, rather than the one who is just going to fizzle. Those players work and work just to get into the minor leagues. Even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever make it to the majors. It takes incredible talent and skill to hit a 90-mile-an-hour fastball or to turn a double–play with hardly a split second to think. Anyone who makes in any level of professional baseball deserves it. Practice makes perfect.

We admire athletes, especially professional athletes, for all sorts of reasons. I myself particularly do so because of all the work they do. It’s both a truism but also true that you need ability - talent – to be able to compete on the national level in any sport. But very few athletes can get by on talent alone without an incredible amount of work besides. Athletes practice constantly to keep their skills up and if possible actually improve them. The amount of time they spend is amazing. We’ll see stories on the sports channels from now until the Olympics at how hard each of those competitors has worked to get where they are today. Six, eight, ten hours a day on their sport is not uncommon. They all have some degree of talent, yes, but then they practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect.

And we Christians, like athletes, have talents too. Each of us if given gifts for ministry by God. Each of us in our own way is invited by God to use the talents and abilities we have, to make known the love we feel from God in Christ to those around us. People have different gifts. Some have gifts for hospitality. Some for service. Some for prayer. Some for teaching or scholarship. There are all kinds of gifts that God gives, each as the Holy Spirit allots individually just as the Spirit chooses. Since God created each of of us, it’s up to us to discover, to discern, what it is God has gifted us with and then start doing it. Honing those talents into abilities takes time, and of course practice. Very few of us can simply discover what God has in store for us and then be immediately perfect at it. It’s practice that makes perfect.

There is one talent that I believe is present in each and every person from birth. It’s the talent to love and be loved. We yearn for, we desire, we need to be loved by our parents as we are growing up. That love of a parent, when expressed joyously and unselfishly, is the absolute desire to want the best for the other. Often it takes incredible sacrifice and patience. Often it isn’t returned. And we usually find that our own lives are incomplete, unsatisfied in some way, unless and until we are able to love others as well.That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here. On this day, at the Last supper, Jesus gave us the Mandatum, from where we get the word Maundy. The commandament that Jesus gave is very simple: to love one another. As Jesus loves us, we’re to love one another. We’re to get to the point where we want the absolute best for those around us, even if, and this is the really hard part, sometimes it means sacrifice or pain or worse for us.

And the reason it’s hard is because we aren’t used to putting others first. We have a natural tendency to put our own self first. That’s part of human nature. It’s part of what continually separates us from each other and from God and from ourselves. And what Jesus asks us to do is to accept the love he gave and is giving to us, the love that wants the absolute best for each of us, and to love each other with that same love. Jesus loved us to the end. Not all of us are called to do that, to sacrifice even our own lives for the other. Some are, and we call them martyrs. And I am not suggesting that any of us should aspire to that title. But this business of putting other first is really really difficult.

Fortunately, Jesus understood that. And he gave us a way to rehearse loving one another in a simple, yet very physical way. It’s a practice regimen, if you will. And like a good coach, he showed his disciples, then and us now, how to do it. He took off his outer clothes, tied a towel around himself, and began to literally wash the feet of the disciple who were with him at the meal.

You have to understand the complete scandal this action actually was. Remember in Jesus’ time most people wore sandals or nothing. Consequently, their feet were always very dirty – no nice hardwood floors or carpeting in those days. They were dirty and dusty and scarred and calloused. Not the most attractive part of the body. People sort of felt about feet back then like we do to day. We embarrassed and we don’t want to take our shoes off.

Now, the other part of the shock that the disciples must have been going through was that only slaves washed the feet of other people. Slaves. People who were owned by other people. Usually the lowest in society. So for Jesus the Rabbi, their Teacher, to put on the garment of a common slave and wash the feet of his own students was a mind-boggling experience to them. The first Christians would have been equally as astounded when they heard this story. Their Lord, acting as an ordinary houseld slave? Unbelievable!

But Jesus did this. He acted out in a physical way the kind of love he was showing them. He would show it again to the whole world, less than twenty-four hours later in the supreme act of self-giving love on the Cross at Calvary. But this time was for the disciples. He didn’t even explain what he was doing until he had started. He just started doing it.

My friends, the love that Jesus gives to us and that He invites us to give to each other and to the world isn’t really about feet. It could be, of course, but it’s about so much more. It’s about wanting – and acting to make happen – the absolute best for those around us. It’s hard work, it’s not part of our fallen nature as human beings. But it’s what God calls each of us to do. And Jesus showed us a way to get started, a practical way to get our hearts and minds and souls used to loving, but loving each other in a physical way by honoring a part of our body that over two thousand years later, we still don’t think very much of.

In a moment, I will invite you to enter once more into the Last Supper with Our Lord. I will wash the feet of anyone who comes forward, and I would invite those of you who wish, to wash the feet of the next person in line. You can use the front pew to prepare if you’d like.

So come on, let’s go practice.



Doorman-Priest said...

Thanks Ron. It was a joy to read. I found it very helpful reading someone else's when I am sick of my own.

RFSJ said...

Thanks, D-P, I appreciate that very much! I ask my parishioners this same question: What in particular did you find joyful?

Happy Triduum,


Doorman-Priest said...

Why, your emphasis on the talent to love and be loved.

RFSJ said...

Thank you, that's helpful!