|Image by: Ford Maddox Brown|
"Do This In Memory of Me. . ."
Lent has officially ended, and if we were to describe this night and the days following this service throughout Holy Week, we could respond by saying it is a sacred time in which - we remember, we celebrate, we believe.
Holy Thursday is a day of story-telling about God’s deep love for us. God puts on an apron and washes the feet of his friends. A simple gesture of profound significance. Jesus desires to show his disciples how much he loves them before he takes leave for the events in the garden and beyond.
He desires this humble service to be carried on again and again – as if handing us the towel to wash the feet of those among us in need of love, healing, tenderness, forgiveness, acceptance, justice, and freedom.
Once upon a time when I was attending a Holy Thursday service at a parish in Milwaukee, I observed that there were chairs set up in the aisles along with pitchers of water, basins, towels, and an attendant at each station.
So when it came time for the ritual of foot washing, everyone in the congregation participated. I found myself entering into the movements and happenings with such emotion, I could feel it deep in my throat and spirit as if God were kneeling before me with towel in hand and saying:
“As I have done so you must do.
Learn to bow
Learn to kneel.
Let your tenderness encircle
everyone you meet,
Wash their feet
not because you have to,
because you want to.”
During this time, I watched husbands and wives wash each other’s feet, children washing the feet of their parents. Children washing the feet of their brothers and sisters as well. I saw sons and daughters washing the feet of their elderly parents. And I observed an acceptance and welcoming by parish members of all those who may have possibly come for the first time to church or who were new to this ritual of remembering, celebrating, and believing.
To tell you the truth, what I was experiencing and observing was a ritual of total unconditional love expressed through each one participating in this washing and it spilling over into the entire congregation to be further shown through gestures of hugs, and smiles, and words of gratitude. It was so profound for me, that I cried throughout the whole experience, and especially as my feet were washed by one of our sisters.
How holy is this? “This night is about bread and wine, about bodies and blood, about feet and washing, about intimacy and unbounded, unexpected love, about a God who bends before us hoping that one day we will treat each other with the same regard and dignity that God has always lavished upon us.” (Megan McKenna, Lent)
It is written that Jesus told so many stories that he became one. This week, we will have the privilege to listen to Jesus’ journey of unconditional love through the readings of the Passion and the other Scriptures that speak to us of God’s faithfulness to humankind. In a way, we are to be filled up with the wisdom of the God who dwells with us and within us.
For it is told that this story of God’s love “is a truth so large that we can only touch one part of it at a time. We have to let ourselves encounter it bit by bit, without expecting that we will comprehend the whole story. We can never grasp this mystery; we can only allow ourselves to be grasped by it.”
So I would like to conclude with a short story that speaks to us about remembering, celebrating, and believing.
Story: The story is told that there was a small group of monks living in the high mountains of a faraway land. Early in the dark hours of morning, they would gather in the chapel. One of the monks would rise and begin the readings of the day, and then there would be a silence. Then some of the monks would leave and return to their cells.
Again, the Scriptures would be read, followed by a long pause for silence and more monks would leave. The Scriptures would be read again and again, allowing the monks to hear and absorb each word of the readings.
And when there was no one left in the chapel, the reader would read the Scriptures one more time to the emptiness of the chapel – listening to its echoes and the Spirit, and then he would close the book and leave. Each monk would reflect upon the Word of God, and then later, they all would gather back in the chapel to share what they had heard and how it had impacted their lives. (Meagan McKenna)
So as we take leave tonight and return to our “cells,” much like the monks in our story, let us remember the words we have heard throughout this evening’s ritual; let us cherish the gift of the sacred Bread and Wine as we continue to celebrate God’s unconditional love, and let us pray in gratitude for the experience of the washing of hands/feet, and may we believe that our joy, hope, and faith will spill over again and again into our lives and into the lives of others . . .as we give voice to what we have shared this evening and how this sacred Mystery has impacted our lives.