Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Maundy Thursday – April 2, 2015
In her book, Things Seen and Unseen, Nora Gallagher shares her experience of one Maundy Thursday. “The room is still, the air is gentle. Sometimes people embrace after they have washed each other’s feet. Katrina is standing at the end of the room, barefoot. Richard Bass, a towel draped over his arm like as waiter, is helping Esther Schultz to her seat.
I kneel down before a thin woman I’ve seen a few times at church. Her foot is nothing but stretched skin over bone. As I hold it, I realize that Jesus knew a secret: to wash someone’s foot, if it is a voluntary act, engenders compassion. The lowly, unprotected foot, not the wise hands or head, is vulnerable, unmasked. I think, There is a reason for all of this.”
Feet. Think of all the feet that pass through our lives in a lifetime. So many, many feet. Young feet, tired feet, old feet, sore feet, angry feet, lost feet. Feet that have walked through the mess of life. Feet that have stepped where they perhaps should not have gone. Feet that have stood on holy ground. Feet that have brought the good news to others. Feet that dance to a different beat. Feet that walk a very different path than yours.
These are the feet of the world; the feet that Jesus washed, the feet that we wash tonight. In the end, our feet have much in common. They have walked through the messes of life, gone places they shouldn’t have, carried the good news, sometimes walked a very different, even weird and wonderful path. What we do tonight is to follow the example of the one who has washed away the old ways and replaced them with love and compassion; a love-washing from which no feet are excluded, nor are any unworthy.
Episcopal priest and author Sam Portaro makes a very profound point about the meaning of the foot washing in the life of the early church. The Gospel of John was written fifty to sixty years after the Resurrection—a whole generation removed from the events it detailed. The Christian community had already begun to fracture into alliances centered on particular teachers. There were growing divisions within these communities and the question of status was an issue.
It is curious, however, that this same Gospel omits any record of the Eucharistic meal described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In John’s Gospel, there is no blessing of bread and wine, no words of institution—only the strange matter of the foot washing.
It made no sense to those disciples that Passover night of long ago. But for those who followed them, there may have been a different perspective. Portaro asks, “Did those early Christians gathered around John’s memory understand that this account was addressed to their own fractious divisions? More importantly. Do we understand?”
Can we see that the only way to make Eucharist—to embrace the gospel in our own lives, to bring the gospel to this culture of ours, and to bring that culture to the fullness of the Eucharistic table is to do the same? Down on the floor, in service, was where the disciples would see God. Down on the floor, in service, is where they would be the church. Down on that floor, in service, is where we are the church.
From this ancient ritual, we will move to making Eucharist—the great equalizer to which all come hungry, yearning to have an experience of the living God. It is offered around a table where no one’s need is greater than another’s. No one’s pain deeper than another’s. Issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and other differences no longer exist at this table. It may only be a fleeting sense of unity we experience there, but it gives hope that we can be knit together by the common thread of our hunger for God and for community with each other.
Yes, Nora Gallagher, There is a reason for all of this.”
There is a reason for all of this: to create a community of equals in which all are served—the faithful as well as the unfaithful and to be saturated by God’s radical love. May we leave tonight with a sacred memory embedded deep in our hearts, recognizing that our place is at the feet of those whom God has entrusted to us, in thanksgiving for the gift that each of them is.