April 3, 2015


Sermon for Year B, Maundy Thursday
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 2, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

In the name of God, my sisters and brothers,
 May each of us find the courage to walk with Jesus Christ these next few days:
   Tonight, the night of his sharing, prayer, and betrayal;
   Tomorrow, the day of his toil and death;
   And Saturday, the evening of his resurrection light. Amen.

Over the past six years together,
 I have seen you wash each other’s feet.
Sometimes it has been in the literal sense –
 Coming here on this day and actually washing each other’s feet.
But more often (much more often) I have witnessed between you a metaphorical washing of feet:
 A willingness to be in one another’s lives
   And to be in service to one another – to give of your better self –
   To be available for conversation and consolation, to try on new ideas together,
     To go out of your way in order to be with each other.
And let’s be honest: sometimes we go a long way out of our way for each other.
Sometimes what we get is more than we thought we bargained for.
But feet are washed, and that’s the point.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve listened at coffee hour to you talking,
 And heard you making connections with each other.
In some Episcopal congregations, the coffee hour is called The Eighth Sacrament.
I wouldn’t discount it!
Making sacramental and communal connections:
 ... Important life stories are shared around the table,
 ... Or silly or strange moments from the week past;
 ... Or what in the world did so-and-so put on Facebook;
 ... Sometimes a table gets quiet and it’s clear someone has shared something pretty personal;
 ... Sometimes you hear people say, as they get up,
     “Listen, call me if you need anything.”
     Or, “I’ll call you to check up on you. When’s a good time?”
And feet are washed.

Why do we do this? Why do we bother to make an effort?
When life is so exhausting and unrewarding, and a little time stolen for ourselves
 On a Sunday morning would make all the difference in the rest of our week?
Why do we bother to keep showing up and checking in?
Why do we keep washing each other’s feet?

I think the first answer to those questions is the same thing that drives a lot of human action.
To be blunt, we show up because we are tired of being alone, and possibly scared, in this world.
We show up for others because life is hard and uncertain,
 And most of us really can use the company.
In other words, we show up primarily for reasons of self.
Tell me about Jesus. Give me the sacrament. Tell me that I’m good and worthy of love.

BUT then something clicks over; something happens. Something pretty wonderful.
After showing up a while, a deep and inescapable truth rises to the surface.
We might have to see it a few thousand times before we’re really willing to deal with it,
 But then we do, and life changes for the better.
That truth: Nothing more or less than this:
   My life is better with you in it than without you in it.
Without you, life makes less sense and isn’t quite complete.
And when I get that, I not only want, but really deeply desire, to be there with you.
Somehow in God’s wisdom and timing, I become in all that one who washes others’ feet
 Because the community needs me to and the community has weight in my life,
 And Jesus’ call not to neglect each other is bearing us up under.
Feet get washed.

When I was a kid,
 Instead of the Passing of the Peace we had – well, I don’t know what you called it.
At any rate, you shook hands with people and smiled your best smile,
 And when it got time to move to the next thing, there was always a song – maybe you know it –

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod
For I’m part of the family, the family of God

It was regular, normal liturgy – just singing a quick little song –
 Just something that happened whenever we got together.
If you sang it twice, it would allow you to politely finish what you were doing,
 Finish shaking someone’s hand, turn back around in your seat.
It was a signal that social time was over and sermon time was coming up.
Just a song we sang.
But those small, normal things have a way of starting to pray themselves in you,
 And by now I’ve easily sung it five, six, seven hundred times at least:
 I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
 Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod

A dictionary will tell you that family is a group of people
 Affiliated by birth, or marriage, or shared residence.
Jesus is willing to push back on that, deepen and refine it.

He says, Kids, I’m only with you a bit more.
You’ll look for me, but where I’m going, you can’t come.
So just know this: I want you to love each other.
If I’ve taught you anything, it’s to do just exactly that.
Because when you do love each other, everyone will know that you’re my people.

Tertullian was a prolific Christian author who lived in Roman-occupied Africa.
He had an up-close view of Roman soldiers and magistrates.
He remarked that the Romans hated each other, and were ready to kill each other;
 And that when they looked at the behavior of Christians,
   They would often remark to themselves, with shock in their voices:
 Look at these Christians, and see how much they love one another,
   And how they are ready to die for each other.

Tertullian perfectly describes the family of God,
 “Joint heirs with Jesus, as [they traveled that] sod.”
His description is so good; it really is the church we know today,
 Even though he’s writing it in the year 197.

It’s a long description, but fascinating. Listen well. He says,
“We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline,
   And by the bond of a common hope.
 We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that,
   Offering up prayer to God as with united force,
   We may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This strong exertion God delights in.
 We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority,
   For the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace,
   For the delay of the final consummation.

 We assemble to read our sacred writings ... and with the sacred words we nourish our faith,
   We animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast; ... we confirm good habits.
 In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered ....
 The tried men of our elders preside over us,
   Obtaining that honour not by purchase but by established character.
 There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God.
Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money ...
 On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation;
   But only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able:
   For there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.
 These gifts are ... not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses,
   But to support and bury poor people,
   To supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents,
     And of old persons confined now to the house;
   Such[, too,] as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines
   Or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons,
   For nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church,
   They become the nurslings of their confession.
 But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many [a Roman] to put a brand upon us.
 See, they say, [see] how they love one another,
   For they themselves are animated by mutual hatred.
 See, they say..., how they are ready even to die for one another,
   For they themselves would sooner kill.”

It’s not about Christians being better than Romans.
It’s about what family looks like when each member washes the feet of another,
 Metaphorically or in actuality.

Keep taking care of each other.

The family of God, traveling this sod, tired but happy.
There is between and among them a bond that cannot be broken.
To just see them walking past gladdens the heart.
See how they love one another!
God has blessed them.

Jesus is very present in their midst.

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