Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013 - "No Greater Love: A Life Made Sacred (Sacrum Facere)"

So....a funny thing happened on the way to "standing down."

Ahhh, so I'm not going to do it. Can't.
But I am only going to post when I have something to say, not when I think I need to say something because everybody else under the sun is posting every single thought that sparks.... Enough of we go.

Below is the current iteration of my homily for Maundy Thursday. I've lived with this for many, many years.

Simple search of the blog will bring forward other versions and the contextual prefaces that will put those versions in perspective.

We who proclaim Gospel have a predilection toward certain aspects of it. Parts of the story of Jesus come from us more easily. Others cause us more struggle to find paths to proclamation.

This is not quite to the magnitude of "Here I stand, I can do no other," historically speaking, but this one strikes close, at least for me.

It's in me.

There are moments in life when the actions we take, the engagement of our lives with the world around us reveal something about us, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We can talk all day about who we are and what we believe – but there’s nothing more revealing or indicting than action or inaction.

Conscious awareness of our role, place and motivation in life, and the ebb and flow of relationships in the slipstream of our existence is “mindfulness.” Taken from wisdom of the eastern religions, it is that capacity for us to know that "wherever we go, there we are" - -and thanks to John Kabat Zinn, the western world is the beneficiary of understanding a spiritual state that belongs to people of all faiths.

Jesus put it this way, "Don't worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today." (Mt. 6.34 CEV)

In times of greatest moment – to act or not to act - - “to be or not to be - that is the question.”

Act with haste, that is, without prayerful discernment seeking guidance from trusted voices, and action becomes an end in itself. Those who yearn to be seen as the hero sweeping in to save the day act hastily.

Ask anyone who has been caught up in the aftermath of one’s lustful, egocentric pursuit of hero worship and they will tell you that such action may look good on the surface, but there is collateral damage aplenty.

"Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette," after all.

But is there compassion or consideration in the face of collateral damage, when in your pursuit to do something you think is a major thing that someone being hurt, ignored or marginalized is a minor thing? Or, is there a willingness to put aside being the hero for the common good?


Inevitably, collateral damage, in whatever form it comes, is considered an acceptable loss, and the price of doing business. The end always justifies the means.

Still others live with perpetual inaction.

Able to articulate and argue relevant points of whatever their issue is with passion – they fail to act. They feed so much on the energy generated by the problem itself so that their motivation to enact a remedy, is muted by the fear that if the problem is solved, the “stuff” that feeds their lives is gone.

They know the issue.
They know the problem.
But they are crippled to do anything about it.

A vicious cycle, that. Indeed, it is pitiful.

Those who refuse to forgive a wrong choose perpetual inaction. Even church folks who know the language of forgiveness won’t enact it. Why? Because our pain and our anger is what we know, and being liberated from it scares us to death. We love our chains more than being free.

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus would say.
"Repent." "Believe."
"Take" up your cross and "follow."
Action words.

It’s the difference between saying you’re a Christian and actually being a follower of Jesus wherever that leads.  Action and inaction. The transcendent truth of either approach to life is self defining and a prophecy perpetually self-fulfilling.

Maundy Thursday is one of those days when the abstract and absolute, the flesh and the spirit, the universal and the particular collide. It is one of those occasions where “the rubber hits the road.” Here, at the end of Lent and the start of the Triduum, the Great Three Days, it reveals through action the character of the One who draws us into this worship space tonight. It confronts us with the real life, real time implications of what a life made sacred looks like. It makes us look at Jesus’ life and consider what we’re doing with our own.

Is life made sacred because it just is…or is life made sacred by what one does with it?

So, action, these actions give meaning to what Jesus has taught. They give meaning to what we believe. They make all this Jesus business real – incarnate.

On this night we focus on an action of Jesus found only in the 4th gospel. The Synoptics don’t have it. John, historically considered the last of the canonical gospels written, has a particular agenda – the writer has a bias, and his bias is always for Jesus (as he understands him and propagates a narrative to give that understanding credence) – his life, his teaching, and the nature of the Christ that has always been.

Only John has this text – Jesus, at Passover, after sharing table fellowship, takes upon himself an action that will be self-defining hereon, as it will be for all of us who carry his name.

He, the one called, Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, Messiah, Christ – comes now to assume the role of the menial laborer – literal dirty work is not beneath him – he embraces it...he love us in it. It defines him. He takes a towel, a basin and a pitcher – and washes his disciples feet.

And at first, it was more than they could have stomached.

"My Jesus don't do stuff like that."

Far too many of us spend way too much time "lifting his name on high," when if he's to be found it will be at our feet.  Failure to honor that, to embrace that is failure to really know anything about him at all. What is it he says to an obstinate Peter? "If you refuse me this you have no part of me."

But why?

Rarely in our observance of Christian liturgy do you find something so profoundly intimate as the washing of feet. Maybe that’s why it’s not a sacrament (which it should be), there’s really no way to observe this liturgy with integrity without touching someone, literally touching someone.

It’s too close, too intimate. It’s not “churchy.”  Getting on our knees and taking off shoes, using water, towels and basins, it’s beneath the dignity of our erudite gathering.

To which I say, “right.” It is.  But it is supremely of Christ.

That Francis I makes this act a loving expression of service today toward juvenile detainees is no small thing. The first Pope of the Church was slow to come around, the current Rock on which the Church is built deserves our notice.

And if we are going to be “of Christ,” with integrity, then tonight, our action or inaction is, guess what? Dare I say it again? Self-Defining.

And maybe that’s what all this dramatic fuss is about this Holy Thursday night and there following into the Great Three Days. If nothing else, we observe integrity at work. That’s an awe inspiring thing. For to live with integrity is joyful, because in it we are complete. We are fully what we’ve been created to become.

Don’t forget, though, that just because we live with integrity does not mean our work is easy. The faithful pursuit of Christ takes us to places we’d never before imagine, and that joyful pursuit is an act of thank-full praise in itself.

William Sloane Coffin said, “Joy is the most important Christian emotion. Duty calls only when gratitude fails to prompt.”

To do this thing…to wash his disciples’ feet, was not a choice absent other options. Think of those options presented to Jesus in the wilderness temptations…to be relevant, spectacular, powerful (as Henri Nouwen would teach us). No, this was a matter of integrity. He did this thing, both in the upper room with his disciples, as well as walk the Via Dolorosa precisely because that's who he is.

To have done anything other than to be a servant, than to identify with the suffering of humankind by embracing the cross, would have been to have missed his moment – the moment when action defined who he was.  This is what a life made sacred looks like:

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15.12-17

Another way of seeing this night might be this. Jesus did not miss his moment and he’s imploring us not to miss ours. Our lives are gifts, to be sure, but they are only made sacred when we enact self-giving love as every moment's measure.

Look. Ministry is hard.
Giving yourself away is hard. Following Jesus to where ministry leads you is hard.

It is counter intuitive to everything innately part of our being that cries out for self interest and self protection.

Placing yourself in the role of servant and not hero is tough. Doing ultimate good without desiring credit for it is extraordinarily difficult.

If it were easy, wouldn’t more folks be doing it?

Instead, too many of us play at Church, play at following Jesus, use our religious pursuits as a contrivance of convenience rather than a covenantal commitment.

Listen, people. To live with integrity or not is far more in our control that we'd care to admit.

It’s in your grasp, sisters and brothers – right here, right now. And that thought burdens us because we are so used to claiming it is our weakness of character, or faith, of prophetic passion that prevents us from being what we’re made to be. We've become accustomed to being able to saying "no," "can't," "that's not my gift."

Bill Coffin again, “We want God to be strong, so that we can be weak. But He wants to be weak so that we can be strong. We want God to prove herself. But she answers, “Do you want proof or freedom?”

Or consider the words of David Whyte:

The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.
It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.
It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.
-- David Whyte
from Songs for Coming Home
©1984 Many Rivers Press

Jesus gathers with us in this room, as he has done with his companions for millennia and says, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’m prepared to do, here are the depths I’m prepared to plunge – for you.”

How far are you willing to go? Could it be that tonight it is at least to declare that “no greater love have I” than to give myself away, even sacrificially, because of love?

What we do tonight, through bread and cup, is a liturgy you have repeated many, many times. May it be, however, that tonight you see beyond your own action of getting up and coming down here and partaking Eucharist, or sitting in this chair to have your feet washed or washing another's.

Consider and embrace the life made sacred because of what he did…made his life sacred, for you, so that your life is sacred in the love you make carried out in His name. Amen.