Tonight is a night of extremes. We began with our Agape Meal, breaking bread together, laughing, sharing stories, reuniting in that specific space after many years of not having this meal. The meal is a time of beloved community. And now we have moved into this space of the Maundy Thursday Service. During this service our sensibilities are stretched, pushed outside our comfort zone. We move through these moments as willing participants of a traumatic few hours from the heritage of our faith.
Within this heritage the passage from Exodus, one of my most favorite, tells us that God instructed His people, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” Our inclination is to do as we once did, kneel at the rail and engage with the body and blood of Christ with slow and intentional reverential gratitude. But God instructs otherwise. Eat quickly because the struggle, the battle is beating at the door.
And now we see the disciples engaging with Jesus. And again we are pushed outside our comfort zones. Jesus has been speaking the last few weeks of His ending, His leaving. He has been cryptic to His beloved friends. And now in this time of fellowship and laughter as they break bread together, as they have done for several years, He does something very differently, not only out of character but out of the cultural norm. He stands up, removes his outer robe, ties a towel around Himself, gets a basin, and begins to wash their dirty, calloused feet.
Close your eyes. Imagine Jesus kneeling in front of you, cupping the water in His hands, all you can see as you sit there is His dark brown hair. You feel the warm water trickling over your feet. You hear the droplets of water fall into the basin. The intimacy of this moment…. It is unspeakable. Sit for a moment in this holy space….
Now open your eyes. We are afforded what the disciples were not: experience. We know what is happening because we truly know who this Jesus was and is, and we know what powerful events are coming in these next days. We will see the betrayal. We will witness the pain. We will experience the emptiness. We will know the grief.
We want to push this away. We want to shake our head and say, “No. I don’t want to see. I don’t want to feel this. It hurts. Let’s just get this over with and skip ahead to Easter.”
The Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter says, “We have opportunities every day to love others by reassigning value and giving it back to those from whom we have arbitrarily removed value and worthiness. As we are products of a society in which racism, sexism, and other isms are prevalent, we have adopted a system that places more or less value on arbitrary human distinctions such as skin color, hair texture, or food preferences. These categories limit us, define our relationships, and even determine with whom we will worship. This arbitrary human system of valuing or devaluing others is a function of sin, though many us are unaware of its insidiousness.”
As we step into these coming days and what Jesus is doing for our sin, may we sit with our uncomfortableness, the dis-ease that absolutely cannot be assuaged right now. May we be courageous to make the undesirable known. May we be intimate with what repulses. And as we engage with these realities in the coming days, my friends, there is much out there that will demand our presence, our attention, our bearing witness. This moment right here amongst those we love and who love us, this is the calm before the storm. Like those in our reading from Exodus, may we gird ourselves for the coming days, standing as we partake quickly of the Holy. The shadow of the dragon is already at the door.