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Holy Eucharist with Healing Prayer

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Maundy Thursday Sermon
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013

Christ Church Andover
Maundy Thursday Year C
March 28, 2013

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I have said this phase over and over again to the young people and the adults I meet in the Episcopal Church, and it’s a phrase which anchors itself in the psyche of the Anglican tradition—Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The way we pray reflects what we believe. Essentially, it is one of the hallmarks of our tradition together, and why we put so much emphasis and energy into our worship together. We say Lex Orandi Lex Credendi to remind ourselves that what we do in prayer, in liturgy, in life, matters. None of our words, our movements, our gestures is without meaning, or done purely for show. All of them are considered prayer, our ongoing conversation with the divine.

And I think Jesus acted essentially in the same way. Everything Jesus did in his brief ministry meant something. It was not only a good idea, or right for the specific time and place, but the things he did, what he said, the questions he asked were always tied intricately into the timing of when he asked them. No movement or word of Jesus’ was wasted, everything pointed to a reality greater than him, larger than the few fishermen that he was most often speaking to.

And we have this night, this Maundy Thursday. We celebrate the Last Supper with Jesus, as he reminded us that we don’t just enjoy a snack together after telling stories, but every time we receive the bread and the wine together, it brings back the memory of Jesus’ last supper, his time with his disciples before he died. And we too, are drawn into that moment, palms outstretched, whether or not we realize it every time we come to the communion rail. But then Jesus does something that we don’t do that often, in fact, which we do pretty much only one night a year. He tells the disciples that he must wash their feet and be as a servant to them.

Peter, I am convinced, is the inner voice in most of us. He is terrified of Jesus’ arrest, and so he denies Jesus after he is arrested, much like we might balk and profess our own innocence to the police or authorities should we get caught up in a suddenly unsavory situation. And he cannot abide the idea of Jesus washing his feet. Why this is so terrifying and unsettling to him is never elicited, but we know that this gesture of Jesus’ does not sit well with him. Jesus washes the feet of all the disciples, Judas included, and it is Peter who suddenly doesn’t want to be part of this. Perhaps it undoes his understanding of authority and power—a person of prestige shouldn’t be scrubbing dirty, calloused feet of the poor. Perhaps it is too vulnerable for him—feet are personal and private and oftentimes sacred parts of our body. Whatever the reason, Peter shies away, much like we might at having a non-professional touch our feet. Pedicurists and podiatrists are different, we insist. It’s their job. It’s entirely different if it is someone personal to us.

But we have to remember. Jesus didn’t do anything that was empty of meaning. Ever. His actions were as much a proclamation of the gospel as his words, so his willingness to bring a basin of water to his friends, tie a towel around his waist and take their feet into his hands must preach the gospel as well. “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand”, Jesus says. This makes no rational sense as you do it, Jesus says. This will make you uncomfortable and challenge your sense of propriety, but later on—when you have done it, when you have taken the chance, when you experience it—then you will get it. Perhaps not now. Perhaps not as I am washing your feet. Perhaps not as you walk away from this supper into the dark of the garden of Gethsemane, but you will understand why I did it, and why we do it for each other. And it has to do with love.

The word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin ‘Mandatum’—mandate Thursday, Commandment Thursday. Jesus gives us a new commandment—not just love God, and love neighbor as yourself, but one which goes past the isolation of loving just God and just neighbor from each other. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you 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.”

Love is one of those beautiful things that seems easy in love songs and in soaring movie endings. It is less easy when it comes in the form of holding someone else’s feet in your hand, caring for the most used, most vulnerable part of another’s body. It is even less easy than that when you let your feet be held by another, trusting them to not judge their form, shape or upkeep. It is the motion of a mother and child, in those early baby bathtubs or the kitchen sink. It is the action of a child or loved one bathing another’s body as it ages or sickens and is unable to care for itself by itself. It is the action of relationship and trust. It is the action of God towards us, and our response to offer that to others around us. It is our reminder of our vulnerability, our dependence.

Jesus never did anything without a reason. Everything he did held the promise of binding us closer to God, closer to love, closer to truth and more often than not, closer to one another. What was promised that last evening with his disciples was not salvation, but an understanding of the nature of God, encapsulated in a simple intimate gesture, that might mature and deepen over time and through reflection, if not in the moment. I’m not sure that Peter ‘got it’ that evening. He didn’t work like that. He probably held his anxiety fairly tightly as Jesus washed his feet. My guess is that he didn’t enjoy it or understand what had just happened until days later—perhaps not even until that silent Saturday after the adrenaline on Calvary.

I wonder what he thought about as he looked back to Jesus, washing the feet of each disciple, even Judas, telling them that this is what he came to do, showing them how much he loved them to the end. Maybe Peter understood in hindsight that Jesus was teaching them how to be disciples when he wasn’t there to bind them together, to give them the right answer, to assuage their fears and worries about what to do or when to do it. But my guess is that that wasn’t the last time they washed each other’s feet.

Love comes in many forms. Jesus’ love for us, God’s love for us never just stays with us, it animates us to care for those around us in the most intimate, uncomfortable of ways, with the only promise being that we too will be cared for, even though we might only recognize it I hindsight.


Last Published: April 23, 2013 3:39 PM