By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
This past week I was reminded, “We are what we repeatedly do.”-Aristotle
It makes sense... If you run every day, you are a runner. If you bake bread every day, you are a baker. If you drink cocktails every night, you are a drinker. If you meditate every day, you are a meditator.If you serve others every day, you are a server. And the list goes on, because, “We are what we repeatedly do.” We recognize people’s identity and their role in the world, by what they repeatedly do. For example, some of you might recognize me as your pastor because I have offered you pastoral care, or as your priest because I have presided over our worship and the blessing of the sacraments. In repeatedly doing these things, you have come to know me as your pastor and priest. Well the same is true for all of us, because, “We are what we repeatedly do.”
Jesus was trying to illustrate this point to his disciples when we meet him in today’s Gospel. He says to the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In other words, everyone is going to recognize followers of Jesus when they see the love we have for each other and the world. And Jesus is pretty specific about what that love looks like, because right before he gives the disciples this new commandment, he demonstrates for them what loving one another should look like. He shows them what love is in the ceremony of the footwashing.
Just before the Passover feast, the disciples are gathered together for some dinner. Jesus gets up from the table and puts on an apron. He finds a basin, a jug of water, and begins to work his way around the room washing and drying the feet of his disciples.That is, until he makes his way to Peter, who interrupts the ceremony. Peter eyes Jesus, and says: You are going to wash my feet?! Jesus lovingly tells him: You don’t understand now, but you will soon enough. But Peter refuses. Shaking his head, saying: No way. You are never going to wash my feet.
Now, in fairness to Peter, he’s not actually trying to be a jerk. He loves Jesus so much, that he thinks this act is beneath him, but he’s missing the point. Jesus tells him, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.” Always going from one extreme to the next, Peter exclaims, “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!” But Jesus breaks it down for Peter--it’s not about cleanliness or hygiene, it’s about holiness. It’s also about service. Jesus was modeling for his disciples that a master is no more important than their servant. He is preparing his disciples to model this kind of love.
This kind of love requires that we surrender ourselves to God. On a daily basis. And to surrender ourselves to God, it requires that we be vulnerable with God and one another.
Every year we have a footwashing ceremony during Holy Week to remind us of this new commandment to love one another. Most years about thirty or forty people attend, and of those, half might have their feet washed.
I share that not because I want to make anyone feel guilty about not having their feet washed, but I do think we need to pay attention to why we avoid the footwashing ceremony. We avoid this intimate communal act because we are pent up with resistance. We will do almost anything to avoid the kind of vulnerability the footwashing asks of us.And yet, Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If we will be vulnerable with God and one another, we can love one another as Christ asks of us. Brene Brown describes this kind of vulnerability, and our inherent resistance to it, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. She writes: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
I wonder, will you explore the darkness within you? Will you stay there long enough to discover the infinite power of your light? The light of God shining through you. Because when we stop running, and stand in the dark long enough to discover the light, we will find ourselves overwhelmed by the light, love, belonging, and joy that a life in Christ brings us. And it is that light, love, belonging, and joy that makes followers of Christ unique. It’s that thing that allows us to be recognized as followers of Jesus. It's that thing others see within us and want for themselves. They may ask your help to find it in themselves. This week, I ask you to wonder--are you running from yourself? Do you dare stand still in the darkness? If you do, when your eyes adjust, do you see the glorious light all around you that Christ shines through each of us? Amen.
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