Benediction Online

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What does it mean to wash each others' feet?

Maundy Thursday 2009

Love is an overused word in our culture. We use it in so many different ways – I love children; I love chocolate; I love skiing; I love you. Any positive feeling can be described as love. But I am sure that when Jesus talks about love in tonight’s gospel reading he was talking about something more than positive feeling. In fact he may not have been talking about feelings at all. As any parent will attest, it is possible to love someone very deeply without actually liking them very much, at least in the short term.

We understand the Godhead to be a complex Trinity of persons living in a relationship of mutual love. This love is characterized by mutuality, surrender to each other in an outpouring of the self, and by thanksgiving and praise. That is the kind of love which Jesus demonstrated. It is the kind of love which is symbolized in the Eucharist and in foot-washing. It’s difficult for us to grasp because it is different in quality to the love we normally experience.

On a piano there are several different Cs. They’re the same note but played at different pitches. If there were no dampers, then every time John played a C all the other Cs would resonate. It’s like that with love. Every time we love we resonate with divine love which is the same thing but at a different pitch.

Tonight Jesus is challenging his disciples to change their understanding of love, to play it at a different pitch, one closer to the divine. Loving other people in this way is not about how it makes me feel, because it isn’t about me at all. It’s about God and the God in the other person. The more we are able to turn towards God and as a result move through the personality, ego and emotional junk that gets in our way, the more we can see Christ in others. The more we can see the true person, the person who is truly beloved of God behind the personality, ego and emotional junk that gets in the way, the more we can love them. And the more we experience ourselves as loved unconditionally by God and those around us, the more we can let go of all the things that prevent us from loving and being lovable.

Being part of Christian community means being called to live Love at a different pitch. It means being willing to wash each others feet. I want to suggest some areas in which we at St Ben’s might focus as we seek to love each other more in this way.

We have many very capable and competent people in the congregation. Many of us know how to get things done. We know how things should look, how things should go. This is wonderful but can lead to two problems. One is that we don’t take other people’s advice or instruction very kindly. In fact, sometimes we get downright infuriated. The other problem is that we see how something is being done, and when it isn’t the way we would do it we want to step in and tell the person how to do it our way.

Jim Marble who is one of our gentle bathroom cleaners said recently that he likes cleaning the bathroom because it’s the one thing at St Ben’s that no-one comes and tells him to do differently!

So I want to suggest that those of us who know how to do things practice washing feet. We will do this by adopting a discipline of gracefulness under instruction. So when someone else tells us how or when to do something, instead of inwardly snarling, we ask God for grace and thank that person for their suggestion. Then we pray for them for the next week. We will also adopt a discipline of not giving suggestions and or advice or telling anyone else how to do something without first asking whether such advice would be helpful to them.

These are disciplines which will help those of us who know what to do to practice love in a different way. There are also those of us who know what to say. Practicing foot-washing when you know what to say and you want everyone to hear it, is to adopt a discipline of listening. A discipline of waiting for someone else to finish before you jump in, even if that means you may be beaten to the post by someone else. A discipline of listening means allowing space for others to speak before you jump in. A discipline of listening means hearing not only with your ears but with your heart and understanding.

These are some of the disciplines which will help us as St Benedict’s to become more the people God intended us to be. In a small community personalities stick out more. It is difficult to get away from people who may dominate. So it is important for those of us, including myself, who sometimes have tendency to dominate, to pay greater attention to others. It would not have been surprising for Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet if he had been a servant. What is so surprising and shocking is that the leader, the Son of God, the one who is due ultimate praise and worship, Jesus the Christ, washed his disciples’ feet.

We don’t usually think about love and discipline in the same sentence but for us to change our behavior requires discipline as well as inspiration. The image of Jesus’ washing his disciple’s feet and our symbolic participation in that tonight will not magically make us able to love with a pitch closer to the divine. Love is not just a nice feeling, it is a way of behaving. Changing our behavior requires intention and discipline.

But we are not alone. Jesus continues to work in our lives bringing change and transformation and new hope. Jesus continues to work in the life of the church, bringing change and new possibility. It is this which give us hope, that as we turn towards God so God turns towards us. As we continue to seek deeper spiritual understanding and as we practice spiritual discipline, the Holy Spirit is there encouraging, guiding and supporting us so that our little attempts become important factors in the redemption of the world.


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