Saturday, April 7, 2012

April 5, 2012 Reflection by Rev. David Boyd

At the science fair at Blewett School last Wednesday morning, the last project that Nolan and I adjudicated was about the heart. It was a very comprehensive project showing information about the heart. As Nolan and I were filling out the adjudication form, we both kind of said at the same time that the presentation made us want to go home and exercise. The student making the presentation talked about the vital importance of the heart. I went home and thought about this from both a physical and a figurative sense... the importance of the heart.

When I got to my office later Wednesday afternoon and opened my email, I discovered that Liz had sent me an email from YouTube that originated at the TED website that showed the development of human life in utero from conception to birth. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and there are over a 1000 wonderful and inspiring presentations on the website. The presenter was Alexander Tsiaras who was doing research at Yale and NASA in computer and scientific visualization. I watched this video of conception to birth in wonder and awe. What an incredible world we live in!
Through the portal of our hearts, we have such opportunity to see the world in all its beauty, wonder and mystery. I think that Maundy Thursday and what we do and remember here this night is heart stuff. We remember and commemorate actions and ideas that open our hearts to the reality of new life, new opportunities and new hope.

One of the main things that we remember tonight is the mandate to love that Jesus gave. This is heart stuff. Jesus took a towel and served his friends. He stepped out the role as teacher and rabbi to enact the gospel of love, to enflesh the example of giving to others, to incarnate the importance of doing unto others. Perhaps in today's world we might say that Jesus got out of his head and into his heart. He engaged people out of his own vulnerability and entered into the vulnerability of others.

Peter, in his typical way, wanted to get things back into the head, into a place that could be understood and appreciated, that could be rationally sorted out. Many of us can relate to Peter's response, "What are you doing. This isn't what you are about, Jesus, washing feet. You will never wash my feet!" And Jesus' response was to suggest that Peter needed to emphasise the importance of his heart.

The first year we enacted the foot washing as part of this service I thought to myself, I'm going to have to wash people's feet. I'm going to have to touch another human being in a very vulnerable and intimate way. And I'm going to bare my own feet to have them washed. Can I do something that requires me to suspend my inner critic and my need to explain and understand? Can touch people in this way that in today's world seems out of place and character? Can I trust another enough to bare my feet and can I be trusted? And yet we did it! And it was humbling! And we're doing it again! Heart stuff!

Part of what I appreciate about Maundy Thursday is that it is the beginning of these three significant days in the life of the Church. There is a deep mystery about these three days that appeals to our hearts such that our churches recognize them with special liturgies and vigils and observances. The power of these days defies logic, really. One of the few Saturday night Easter Vigils I attended had a lasting impression on me; I was a student at Vancouver School of Theology and we held an Easter Vigil at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church. I was a participant and one of the planners. The imagery of the whole event was of moving from life to death to new life. It was very powerful and we felt that we walked the road with Jesus in a very real way. I thought of that Easter Vigil experience back in the 80's when I watched the TED video about life. I watched in awe as images of life flashed on the screen, a new birth into a new life; the Easter vigil was about participation in the life of the resurrected Christ. That's heart stuff; it defies logic and explanation.

Samuel Wells, Dean of Duke Chapel at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, wrote an article in The Christian Century in June of 2005 in which he said this about footwashing: "When they wash each other's feet, Christians embody the ministry of Christ in a concrete act of humble service. This act is inherently socially subversive, not so much in being deliberately confrontational but in its playful turning of the world upside-down. Here disciples discover that there is no fundamental hierarchy but simply a call to all Christians to attend to the most intimate, least attractive and most shameful gestures of mutual care. Footwashing is a model of interdependent community—subversive, playful, imaginative, physically (but not sexually) intimate, and faithful."

Wells goes on to link Footwashing to the Eucharist, to Holy Communion, and the invitation to see communion in all of life. The link is that footwashing is an incarnational act; Jesus, as incarnation of God's love and compassion, gives the mandate to love and helps us to remember that mandate through the Eucharist or communion. Put another way, footwashing is a small "s" sacramental act. We sacramentally draw one another closer in community through the act of footwashing; we live the Life of Jesus in self-giving love and compassion. We embody, we incarnate this love and compassion of God, when we take a towel, some water and gently massage one another's feet.

One of the theological agreements we have as Protestants is that we recognize two big "s" sacraments: Communion and Baptism. These two sacraments through water, bread and wine are tangible signs of God's grace. They draw us together where as an enfleshed community we dare to love one another and act out that love in ways that require of us vulnerability and compassion. These sacraments are subversive in accentuating the importance of hospitality, openness, and the invitation to all to eat at table together. These sacraments, through the emphasis of God-with-us, Emmanuel, our incarnational God, overturn the power-mongerers, the empire-builders, the exclusionary practices of defining those who are in and those who are out as expressed by the domineering powers of our age.

And this is heart stuff. When we live more out of our hearts, we live less in fear; we move beyond cynicism and despair. Jesus' heart-felt expression of grace in washing his friends' feet lives in the very incarnational ways that we subvert the dominant culture that surrounds us, or when we sometimes grudgingly respond to the needs of others when we have an already full agenda for our day, or when we open our borders to refugees seeking simply to live, or when we see the environment around us as a brother or sister and not as something to exploit, or when we seek to support local farmers rather than agri-business, or when we advocate for life-giving changes to health care, or when we take those who are grieving silently into our arms, or when we seek ways of distributive justice rather than building more prisons and creating harsher sentences, or when... we live simply with others in compassion and love washing each other's feet.

That's what we do here tonight: we live the life of Jesus in washing each other's feet... we live the life of Jesus in incarnational living in this world... we live the life of Jesus in experiencing God's grace and sharing that grace and love through communion with all life.

Maundy Thursday
by Sarah Rossiter
(The Christian Century, April 8, 2011)

Kneeling on Boston Common it's this foot,
naked, resting in my lap with clean towel,
socks, warm water waiting, that tells me
this is what happens after a cold winter
of deep snow when you're homeless in
dirty socks and cracked shoes that don't fit:
this foot, bloody, swollen, toes deformed,
I wash gently, first one, then the other, and
never have I felt so close to Jesus, his feet,
bare, pierced, bloodied, nailed to the wooden cross.

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