April 2, 2015
We enter tonight the mystery of the great three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Day of Resurrection. They are one event, one act of salvation and healing of the world—which actually starts at Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary. They are God’s gift to us—which means they are hard for us to take, because we have trouble receiving the help of others.
The moment we accept an invitation to a friend’s house for dinner don’t we make plans to invite them to our house as soon as possible?
The moment we are in someone’s debt, we want to repay that debt.
This is culturally learned to be sure but I think it is also hardwired into us. Dog training books tell us that dogs do not thrive if they are always on the receiving end of their owner’s care. They need to have a job in the pack. Charlie, our 3 year old 65 pound lab mix, is hardwired to protect the household. That’s his job and he takes it seriously. No stranger is sneaking into our house.
rents know that it is a good thing for teenagers to have chores around the house, so they will understand what they have to contribute other than being a drain on resources and someone to fight for the TV remote.
Therefore it is hard for successful people like us to imagine that we are ever like those who have nothing and need everything.
We simply will do everything in our power not to be helpless. We want to earn our keep.
And this is a good thing, to be sure, until it comes to our relationship with God in which we are told we are saved by grace alone and that God’s unconditional love does not require anything from us. God’s love is sheer gift and there is nothing we can do to earn it—or to lose it.
This is why churches struggle with grace. We like to think our outreach to the poor makes us stand out in God’s eyes and our welcome to newcomers is something we can brag about to each other.
We say, doesn’t my going to church count on my record? Don’t my gifts to others less fortunate count?
Of course they count to the people receiving them, and they are important to our own sense of well-being, but they don’t make God love us more and they don’t add anything to God’s work of saving us.
We’ll see this tomorrow, as Jesus hangs on the cross–alone. None of the disciples are up there with him. We have fled the scene while Jesus does God’s work alone: for us, without us.
Jesus’ last words on the cross in John’s Passion are “It is finished!”
The work of salvation from the virgin’s womb to the virgin tomb is the Triune God’s alone: for us, without us.
Like our parents caring for us when we were newborns: for us, without us.
But we resist being that needy and helpless so when Jesus comes with his bucket to wash our feet we say with Peter, “you will never wash my feet!”
Jesus answers, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter finally gets it and says, “Well then, Lord, wash me from head to toe!”
John doesn’t record what the other 11 say when Jesus slides the bucket to their feet.
But imagine how Judas feels! Not only does he have nothing positive to give to God, he is actively working to betray God’s Son.
And Jesus knows this—and yet he still washes Judas’ feet!
One stanza of the poem “The Feet of Judas” by African-American George Marion McClellan (1860-1934), unpacks this moment:
Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And thus a girded servant, self-abased,
Taught that no wrong this side the gate of heaven
Was ever too great to wholly be effaced,
And though unasked, in spirit be forgiven.
Grace is grace. Judas would have heard more grace when Jesus cries out from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
But we’re not Judas—are we?
Paul, writing just 25 years after the Last Supper, reminds us Jesus reveals more grace that same night:
“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
We are invited—whether we think of ourselves as Peter or Judas, and most days we’re some of both—to come, not with hands full of our specialness, but with empty hands to receive Christ who has joined himself with us and all humanity and brought us into the communion of the Triune God.
As we receive this grace we realize we have been given the gift of belonging. We find that we belong to the pack—to Father, Son, and Spirit and the human race.
And we find in that belonging that we do have a task to do for the community: first of all, we, like Charlie, announce a break in: the breaking in of God as a human being into creation. And second, as members of the pack, we are told it is our job to let Christ keep working through us for the healing of the world.