Sermon by the Rev. Abby Vanderbrug for Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020.
In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
When I was seminarian, I was all geared up and prepared to go through Holy Week like a clergy person. They said, “once Easter gets here, you’ll just want to take a nap in the vesting room.” It was Maundy Thursday and I was ready to spend the next 4 full days in church. My job during this particular liturgy was to carry vases of lukewarm water to each foot-washing station, grab the empty ones, refill them, and then bring them back. And since I was a seminarian I had completely overthought this task and carried it out with precision.
The way footwashing worked for this parish was there were five or so “stations” that you could choose from. So you got up from your seat and lined up at a station. You washed the feet of the person in front of you and then you sat down and the person behind you washed your feet. I went over to one such station to refill water pitchers when I overheard this conversation.
A man who was in the choir, who was well..he was a very tall man – probably 6’6’ with a big build, and had a full head of white hair, and a beard. He also wore large chunky braces on his legs and feet, which caused him to walk slow and unsteadily. He was already in the line when his wife came over from her seat to meet him. He turned to the stranger behind him, a young woman, and said,
“Excuse me, do you mind if my wife cuts in front of you? I’m sure you do not want to wash my feet. I’ll save you the trouble.”
The woman said back to him. “I don’t mind washing your feet.”
“Oh, it will take me so long to get up and down from that chair, And I need help taking off these socks. I’m sure you’d rather wash someone else’s.” He replied.
“No, really, it’s okay.”
His wife didn’t say anything, but went to the back of the line.
When I overheard the situation I decided to abandon my task and see what happened. The man struggled to sit in the low chair, and then the young woman knelt down, helped take off his socks, shoes, and braces. She washed the feet and as she did so the man began to weep, and so did everyone else in that line. How shattering it is to be loved for who we truly are.
I am deeply saddened that we are not together to wash each other’s feet tonight. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year – the vulnerability, the awkwardness, and the symbolism are powerful.
It’s the night before it’s all about to go down and the disciples are together with Jesus, their miraculous leader, beloved teacher, friend. They’ve been through so much by now I’m not sure they would know another way to be. Jesus was aware what was about to happen, but the disciples did not know the pain, horror, and grief that was awaiting them. Their world is about to be flipped upside down.
But instead of Jesus using this time to tell the disciples exactly what is going to happen, why it is all going to happen, and what to do, and how to respond, Jesus chooses to spend the night eating and washing their feet.
What are Jesus and his followers doing the night before the pain happens? – they are being together, loving each other, telling each other the truth. It’s as if Jesus is saying to each of them, “listen, things are about to get bad, but I need you to know the truth: I love you, I have always loved you. And we’re going to get through this together.”
This is exactly what we need when we’re standing on the edge of something terrible. Not explanations, or plans, or details on how it will all work out in the end. We need love. Sometimes words do not articulate this as well as we would like. So when our words fail, the simplicity of bread, wine, water, touch do the trick.
The reality that was awaiting all of them was disaster, chaos, heart-breaking, and earth shattering. We all know the story of Good Friday, it’s the excruciating pain before the rising, it’s the death before the resurrection, it’s the heartbreak before the healing, but Maundy Thursday shows us that we’re in this thing together and love is what’s gonna pull us through it.
I can’t help but think of the parallels between our Holy Week and the chaos we find ourselves during a global pandemic.. It’s our whole world flipped upside down and inside out.
So on this Maundy Thursday night, I’d like to offer a small little tidbit of what I consider to be truth: no one is handling this. No one is “fine.” No one is crushing this quarantine – no matter how their Instagram page looks. No one is without some amount of fear, anxiety, and grief. We are all in this boat. We are all sitting in our living rooms, watching the news with tears and wrecked with emotion wondering how this could be happening to us, wondering if it’s coming to us, or someone we love, and what it all might mean for months to come. It’s rough out there and if you are feeling that way, it’s okay, I feel that way too. This is hard.
But remember, that these are gunky feelings that the disciples, and maybe even Jesus, were all sitting in too on the night of the last supper when Jesus told them what would happen.
On the first Maundy Thursday they didn’t have a liturgy with bulletins set out for them, they didn’t have a church, they didn’t have what they had “always done.” They used what was right in front of them – some water, some bread, some wine, the truth, stories, songs, memories, this is how we come together to prepare for the grief, this is how we carry each other through it.
And so maybe you are home tonight without our typical maundy Thursday elements – no seminarian to refill the water pitchers for you, no stranger next to you that you could wash their achy feet, maybe no altar to break bread on. But I wonder, with a little bit of imagination, could you search your heart to find something that might bring us together?
Maybe it’s a card, or a phone call, or buying a giftcard to a local business that is struggling, or donating money or time to an organization that provides resources to those whose lives have been drastically hit the economic repercussions of this pandemic – like Neighbor to Neighbor , or saying thank you to a hospital care worker, whatever you are able to do. Somewhere down in your heart is a beautiful idea on how you can love our world right now.
Friends, this is the way to the Resurrection. We show up, together, with shaky hands and terrified hearts and we love each other through it. Love is the way, it has always been the only way. Take good care of each other, it’s rough out there.