Love One Another
Speaker: Jo Turner
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
This is my homily; it is not a sermon--what we see and do here tonight is the real teaching, the true sermon. I am a layperson, so the words I share are my thoughts as one of you.
This is some week. Throughout the church year, we listen, read, learn, praise and pray, and now so much of our faith story is boiled down into one week. So much to grasp. So much to understand.
And yet this evening’s gospel, and the events it recounts, is about laying bare the fundamental truth of Jesus’ life--why he came to us, and the commandment he leaves with us. We already know that Jesus had been through a difficult week since coming to Jerusalem. And because he knew that his time on earth was coming to a close, and gathered his friends for the Passover meal. During supper, before breaking bread with his disciples, Jesus took off his robe and wrapped himself in a towel, that he might wash the feet of his followers.
It was common act of hospitality to provide guests with water so they could wash their own feet. But to humble one’s self to wash another’s is something else. I imagine it felt like an uncomfortable intimacy to the disciples: their Lord coming to them as a servant. We may be a little uncomfortable tonight as we engage in this re-enactment, but probably nothing like the disciples felt.
If I place myself in that room, I can imagine my incredulity, wondering, like Simon Peter, how Jesus--the great teacher we had been following--could display such awesome vulnerability. Our Master took off his robe! He comes before us unadorned. We take off our sandals, in which we have walked many miles with Jesus. Our feet are caked with the soil of the fields, the grime of the crowded city during the festival of Passover, and certainly the smells of the animals that crowd the way. And now our Master takes our feet in his hands!
Could I ever be so vulnerable? And what must I be cleansed of to receive Jesus’ gift -- this intimate, radical act of love?
This evening at St. Alban’s, we all might think about what is clinging to us that needs to be washed clean. Soon we will watch the stripping of the altar, symbolizing Christ being stripped of his very life. What must we lose to be spiritually naked? Perhaps it is pride, or fear, or addiction, or anger… or complacency. Only I know what needs washing from me, and only you know what needs washing from you, so that we all might be fully receptive to hearing and acting on the new commandment Jesus gives us: It doesn’t sound complicated.
Jesus says: “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is a tall order, and it’s the last commandment Jesus gives us. I am painfully aware that it is almost impossible to fulfill when we remain wrapped in what we cannot relinquish--our ego, dependency, jealousy, whatever it is--if we cannot see Jesus and be seen in our washed-through and unadorned state. This commandment requires that we lose something to gain the life God has in mind for us. Living out this commandment is how we become fully human, as our Christ was, and maybe just a little divine. By truly loving one another, says Jesus, everyone will know we are his disciples. It becomes who we are! And this holy love marks our lives and endures all things.
Poet Sarah Rossiter says this in her poem, “Maundy Thursday:
Kneeling on Boston Common, it’s the 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.
On Maundy Thursday evening 45 years ago, I sat with my mother at my father’s bedside. My Dad was dying of a malignant brain tumor, and in those days before hospice programs, we chose to take him out of the hospital against medical advice, so that he might shed his life at home, layer by layer, in our presence and with our care. Over those last few days, we two exhausted women watched him first shed his ability to speak, then shed his ability to drink, and then his ability to respond to our touch.
For our part, we had to incrementally let go of the belief that being alive is everything; we had to be bare before what was inevitable. We tenderly bathed him. Then we held him as his skin became mottled and cold, and until the next breath did not come. And there was no more life. We sat there for the longest time in the quiet, feeling lost. And then my mother said, “But the love is still here.”
After our foot washing this evening, we will come together for the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper--then experience the stripping of the altar. I invite you to enter into all of it, fully and prayerfully. Then we will walk silently to the garden, our Mt. of Olives. It will be dark. In this darkness, let us lay open our hearts with an anguished Jesus as he prays.
Love will be there. And it will see us through these three days until it bursts forth in glory. This commandment, this giving and receiving love, is what will carry all of us through the dark gardens of our lives, through its stripped-bare moments. Jesus has been there and has told us how. Lose whatever binds us, and love one another. Dive clean-feet-first into love. It’s how we’ll get by. It’s how we can live the life that Jesus suffered and died for
“Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
In the name of the God who created us, who saves us, and who is with us today.