Thursday, March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

“You shall eat like those who are in flight.”
This is how God commanded the Israelites
to celebrate the Passover,
instituted to commemorate
their salvation from slavery in Egypt.
You shall eat like those who are in flight,
dressed in your traveling clothes,
shoes on your feet,
your walking stick in hand.
You shall eat like those who are in flight
because you must not tarry in the place of slavery,
the place of bondage,
the place of death.
You shall eat like those who are in flight
because the land of captivity is not your home,
because you are made for freedom and for life eternal
in the land of God’s promise,
because you are a people marked out and set apart
by the blood of the lamb that has been slain.

When Jesus came to eat the Passover with his disciples,
on the night he was handed over,
he, too, ate like one who was in flight.
But he was not fleeing from captivity,
but into the hands of his betrayers.
He was not fleeing from the place of death
but toward it.
For he was the lamb of sacrifice
whose blood would consecrate his followers,
marking them as his own.
He knew that his Passover—
his passage from death to life—
was not a flight from danger,
but a flight into danger,
into the decisive moment when death and life
would meet in combat,
so that death might be defeated
and life might spring forth from the tomb.

Yet in the midst of this headlong flight to Calvary,
this hastening toward the battlefield of cross and tomb,
Jesus pauses to wash his disciples’ feet.
He pauses for an act of humble service,
to attend to a simple material need.
At the turning point between his coming forth from God
and his return to God,
Jesus takes a towel
pours water into a basin,
and washes their dirty feet.

Yet this pause is not a suspension
of the drama of salvation;
it is the meaning of that drama.
It is the meaning
of Calvary and cross and tomb.
The disciples, as usual,
do not understand all this.
For them it is just one more odd
and vaguely embarrassing
thing that Jesus does.
But what Jesus is performing
before their uncomprehending eyes
is the very meaning of his flight toward the cross,
the very mystery of his existence.
It is for this that he came,
to be poured out in love
over the sad and sinful human race,
like the water flowing over his disciples’ filthy feet.
He eats his final meal like one who is in flight
yet takes the time to kneel and serve
the humblest of human needs.

We, too, must eat like those who are in flight.
We must eat, like the Israelites,
as those who are fleeing
the place of captivity,
the land of death.
We must eat, like Jesus,
as those who strain toward
their own decisive hour,
the moment when we, too,
will be called to bear witness
in the face of hatred
to the God of love,
to testify in the face of death
to the God of life.
The Eucharist is not a feast
that leaves us satisfied and indolent,
but food that makes us yearn
to be on our way,
out from the bondage of sin,
along the road of grace,
and into the land of glory.

And yet, even as we eat like those who are in flight,
we must, like Jesus, pause to wash feet.
For this is the meaning
of the drama of sin and grace and glory
that we live in these days:
“as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Even as we hasten to the land of promise
and the decisive hour
we must, like Jesus, kneel to serve our neighbor,
especially those who are most in need,
those stripped of their dignity as God’s image.
We pause in our flight to glory
so that we might not arrive there alone.
As the poet Charles Péguy wrote,
“We must arrive together before the good Lord.
What would he say
if we arrived before him,
came home to him,
without the others?”
We pause to wash feet
not as part of a comprehensive plan
to fix what is wrong with the world,
to create a utopia,
to be the world’s savior,
but as a parable of hope for the hopeless,
rooted in the saving work of Jesus
and his gracious presence through the Spirit.
Jean Vanier writes,
“We have to remind ourselves constantly
that we are not saviors.
We are simply a tiny sign,
among thousands of others,
that love is possible.”

We eat like those who are in flight,
like those who have shed the burdens
of the land of bondage:
burdens of self-interest and self-justification,
burdens of self-seeking and self-protection.
And freed, of those burdens,
we pause in our flight to glory
to wash feet,
to seek the lost,
the bind up the wounded,
to visit the captive,
to enact before the watching world
the mystery of divine love
that has been given to us in Jesus Christ.