St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church—affectionately nicknamed "Two Saints"—is a diverse, joyful, and progressive congregation in the heart of Rochester, New York. We are an inclusive community of people, a family in faith who want to hear God’s word and follow Jesus in our daily lives. We feel strengthened by our diversity and by our unity in the breaking of the bread. Together we strive to be loving and forgiving towards ourselves and others. We try to honor all of God’s creation and not to be the instrument of our own or another’s oppression. We reach across our differences to embrace and support each other in nurturing corporate faith life. Together we use our talents in ministry to the urban community that encircles us, with God's guiding hand and blessing.
"May you be taught by these words, so you may teach them. May you be served by them, so you may serve all entrusted to your care. And may you hear them, so you may in turn proclaim them with all your heart. " - Lisa Cressman
Welcome to Maundy Thursday. This Thursday before Easter is thought to be the day Jesus celebrated the last Passover with the apostles. Some refer to this event as the “Last Supper.” Jesus knew the hour of his death was fast approaching and he did what anyone else would do in those circumstances – he spent time with the people he cared about. He shared a meal with the apostles and offered advice for the time when he would no longer be physically with them. Jesus even becomes a servant and serves them by washing their feet in an act of humility and love. Jesus gives a new teaching to love one another as he has loved them. This is where the “maundy” in Maundy Thursday originates.
I was at a clergy gathering this week where we renewed our ordination vows and the holy oils used for baptism and for the sick are blessed. The person who gave the sermon asked us to reflect on the absurdity of our Holy Week observances. I have to say that she has interesting friends. They know she is a priest and they seem to ask strange questions in an attempt to understand what it is that their friend does as a priest.
My friends, tend to border on the atheist-agnostic-Easter spirituality spectrum and honestly think the things I do as a priest are at best strange and at worst the stuff of superstition. They’re a bit standoffish. They tend not to ask really thought-provoking questions related to religion as many of them have been hurt by the institutional church and want nothing to do with it. They think I do good works and are glad that someone is doing good works in the world.
So, for the most part, I never receive questions about the odd and absurd things that happen during Holy Week. With one exception – Maundy Thursday and that foot-washing thing. Wash a stranger’s feet they say? Aren’t you afraid of catching athlete’s foot in your hands or something? Do you wear rubber gloves? Why do you do that?
The new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” has an “ickiness” factor attached to it. There is something uncomfortable about going church to wash a stranger’s feet. In our modern time we have paved roads and sidewalks. We have shoes that protect our feet from dirt and dust better than sandals. We don’t need to wash our feet upon entering someone’s house as a guest.
Maybe that is why some churches in other denominations focus on what is called the “Institution of the Lord’s Supper” on Maundy Thursday. Maybe the “ick” factor is not the prospect of touching a stranger’s feet, but the vulnerability to love another as Jesus has loved us to take place. That begs the question, “What does it mean to love another deeply as Jesus did?” [If we are not loving one another, how can we approach the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, a sacrament instituted in love with a less than loving attitude?]
Verna Dozier reminds us that we are in the midst of a love story from the moment God decided to create a world. “Creation, she says, is an act of love, and the Bible begins with a vulnerable God. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Dozier goes on to say the lover seeks the beloved. The lover is not complete without the lover. This is the absurd message of Maundy Thursday – to love others extravagantly, without exception, as Jesus did. God has pursued and loved his creation even when it has been less than loving. God pursues us even when we have been less than loving. God loved us so much he sent his son to live amongst us as the lover who seeks the beloved – which is you and me – don’t forget. We in turn are to love and become complete by loving others. We are called to behave extravagantly and as absurdly as Jesus loved. Even if it means touching feet.
Footnote: Verna J. Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return, “The Biblical Story,” 21.
Bishop's annual visitation,