Tonight we hear the moving story of Jesus’ and the disciples’ last meeting and meal. It is the story of ordinary actions; washing the dust off and sharing food, ordinary actions done with extraordinary love. That night the disciples gathered with Jesus, rumors about Jesus’ arrest were in the air. Jesus, of course knew what was about to happen, and, I think, perhaps the disciples did too. I expect they ate quickly and quietly, and on this most holy night, Jesus chose this everyday action of washing to teach us a most important lesson, a lesson about love. Jesus knew that Peter was about to deny him and that Judas had already conspired to betray him. In spite of this, Jesus stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist and bent down to wash the feet of his friends and enemies alike; a gesture of Love, the ordinary kind, given freely to everyone.
Such an ordinary action, foot washing, on this extraordinary night. Jesus teaches us about love in ordinary ways; a drink of water and a conversation by the well with a Samaritan woman, or a meal at Martha and Mary’s home. We know he breaks all the rules of the society of his day, but I think that on Holy Thursday Jesus also wanted to teach us that love, given through ordinary actions, with awareness and mindfulness, can be the most powerful love of all, the kind that passes all understanding. Ordinary expressions of love: the casserole you bring to a grieving neighbor, the therapy dog who visits nursing home patients, and the prayer shawl or comforting quilt.
It’s risky, isn’t it, this love freely given? Risky, because the more we open to love, the more we risk betrayal or loss or pain. We risk security and stability when we open to love. But it’s a beautiful and worthy risk, because without it we are stuck, stuck not moving forward, stuck without growth, without opening to the possibilities of the future.
Ordinary actions make up most of life. Excellence is wonderful, isn’t it, and who doesn’t want to pursue it, who doesn’t want to change the world? But life is really made up of one ordinary action after another, get out of bed, make your bed, show up on time and prepared for school or work, say thank you, help a neighbor, cook, clean, do it again. Washing the dishes might not just be a mindless task. If we are fully awake and aware, we can find God in the kitchen as well as in the chapel.
The ancient Celts understood something about this. Esther de Waal, in her book, “Every Earthly Blessing” describes it as an approach to life in which God breaks in on the ordinary, daily, mundane and earthy. It is the sense that God informs daily life and transforms it, so that any action can become the time and place for an encounter with God. She says, “nothing is too common to be exalted, and nothing is so exalted that it cannot be made common”. The Celts everyday actions were infused with images of the way God interacts with his people. For a blessing on a journey they would pray: “May the road rise to meet you” or St Patrick’s beautiful litany: “Christ be with you, before you, behind you, when you sit down, when you arise.” A blessing was spoken as the fire was laid and as the children went out the door. A Mother would commend her new- born infant to the Trinity. The baby would be handed across the hearth fire three times and then carried sun-wise three times around the fire with the help of the neighbors who had assisted at the birth. Three drops of water would be placed on her forehead and then the prayer spoken: “And I beseech the Holy Three to bathe this child and to preserve it to themselves. All the people in this house are raising their voices with the watching-women, giving witness that the child has been committed to the Holy Trinity.” This was called the “Mother’s Baptism”. It preceded the formal “clerical” baptism when the child was received into the church.
Washing is a very ordinary activity, and my hands are in the dishwater many times each day. I have washed countless baby parts and wiped many baby noses. A cool cloth on a feverish brow is very ordinary, but when I have looked down on the beautiful faces of my kids and grandkids, and when I’ve been awake and fully present in the moment, I have felt indescribable love and the presence of Holy Spirit.
So many of our ordinary acts of love are on hold right now. There are rituals and routines we miss. We long for the kind of community we have each Sunday, which gives us strength and courage to go out into the world with love. I hope we are trying to remember that it’s not the location or the details that matter, it’s the love that matters. A friend is reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” to her Granddaughter at lunch every day. There is music in the air, the birds are singing more beautifully than ever. There are lots of ways to cultivate new “habits of grace”. Join in for Compline on line before bedtime or listen to sung Compline by the Compline Choir of St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. It is broadcast on a number of airways every Sunday night. There’s even a “Compline Underground” blog for those of us geeks who want to learn more about the text and the music! Presiding Bishop Curry gives a weekly video message. His expressions of love are moving and timely.
Whose feet can you wash tonight? How can you show extraordinary love to someone in these strange times? Maybe that someone is you? Here is a simple recipe for a calming foot soak: a basin of warm water, ½ cup Epsom salts, and a few drops of an essential oil like lavender. I promise you will sleep better after a 15-30 minute soak.
The ordinary/extraordinary things we need to do in these strange times are pretty clear: Be good to yourself, and be good to your neighbors in creative ways. Find ways to make the ordinary extraordinary, and remember that our great teacher, Jesus will show us the way. Amen.
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