Maundy Thursday is my favorite service, and has been since I was a wee small child. The acute juxtaposition of the glory and assurance of the Eucharist, alongside the desolation of the stripping of the altar, and the betrayal in the dark.
The modern, American, suburban church is bad at negative feelings. We don’t do so great at lament, or expressing a feeling other than Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking. If Jesus is the answer, then the thinking is that nothing could be the problem.
But the older I get, the more convinced I am that we need a robust discussion of sin and brokenness in the church, in order to process the reality of suffering that greets us each day as we open the door. How can we deal adequately with war, famine, poverty, racism, violence, etc, in a compassionate way, unless we also admit to ourselves the brokenness and corporate sin that plagues the world? How do we stand in solidarity with the victims of these things if we do not also admit the sheer pain and anguish they cause?
Letting the church be stripped and pillaged on Maundy Thursday isn’t much, but it’s a start.
Here’s what I said.
What is the last thing you want to do? The last thing before you leave, the most important? These are the most important, the things that shape us. The way we end relationships. “How would you spend your last day on earth?” Think of those folks in Hawaii during that false alarm missile test.
This is the last thing Jesus does with his friends—this most uncomfortable, humiliating ritual. So much so that It hasn’t gotten any more comfortable after these 2,000 years!
The lowest servants washed feet. Feet went everywhere, got covered with dirt, and animal waste and Lord knew what else. They were nasty and smelly and look, many of us are self-conscious about our feet now, what with pedicures and whatnot, imagine how bad it would be without podiatry and callus removers. And also walking around Galilee all your life.
And Jesus is asking his disciples to let him wash their feet.
Sometimes we miss how hard it is to let someone see your vulnerability. We talk a lot in church about the importance of serving others—and that is incredibly important in our lives as Christians.
But there are times when service is actually the easier path. Because serving others means we do not need to dwell in our own humanity and our own brokenness. We get to concentrate on how broken others are. And hey, that’s way more comfortable! I can dwell on the imperfections of other people all day!!!
Yet here, in the final moments of his time on earth, Christ asks his friends to sit for a moment in their own vulnerability. And of course, Peter immediately chokes. Peter, patron saint of Speaking-First-Thinking-Later, says “I CANT DO THAT, OMG ABSOLUTELY NOT” And Jesus calmly tells him to pipe down. So Peter switches gears; “OK LORD, THEN I MUST BE ABSOLUTE GARBAGE, SO PLEASE JUST WASH ALL OF ME OMG IM AWFUL.” Poor Peter. Icon of humanity, that guy. Because we all tend to bounce from these two extremes, when called upon to confront our weaknesses. Either I AM FINE, NOTHING IS WRONG. Or EVERYTHING IS AWFUL, I AM IRREDEEMABLE, PLEASE DO NOT LOOK AT ME.
But the truth is—neither is true. We are none of us perfect. We are all broken and weak. We have all been trudging in the dirt and mud of our various struggles for far too long. We participate in systems of human construction that make us complicit in the oppression and degradation of other people.
And yet. And yet, on this night, in this holy week, Christ still comes to us, and wants to be with us in our brokenness and to wash us clean. Christ wants to cleanse us from all that weighs us down, and keeps us from the unbreakable love of God that created us. Even with all our mistakes, all our cruelty, all the seemingly-inescapable mud of our sin, Christ still sits at our very feet and is with us.
In the days to come, Christ will be betrayed, judged, abandoned, and murdered at the hands of a broken and sinful human world. And yet tonight, he assures us through his presence in the Eucharist, and in his presence with us now, that not anything we can conjure nor commit, and no amount of terrifying feet, will make him abandon us.