I imagine in the room that night the friends and followers of Jesus enjoying each other’s company, glad to be away from the crowds. They have no idea at the time that this is the night they will never forget. When I was working as a chaplain at the hospital, I noticed that the family and friends of those who had suddenly or unexpectedly died would in a grief so thick it sucked the oxygen out of the room, they’d gaze off and say “Just this morning we were eating breakfast and talking about baseball” or “We were just walking the dog, laughing about the kids” The life changing seems always bracketed by the mundane. The quotidian wrapped around the profound like plain brown paper concealing either a bar of gold or an improvised explosive devise or sometimes both. In a slice of a moment we discover the gold beneath the paper or the bomb and then absolutely everything changes, but when we recall it in our now forever changed life, from this side of the event we start with the plain brown wrapping, it looked like every other package, every other morning every other walk. We were just eating dinner upstairs in some guy’s house, when …everything changed.*
It had been quite a couple of weeks really. Jesus had outdone himself with that whole raising Lazarus thing. The leaders at the temple were so pissed. Especially with that totally cool entry into Jerusalem. Whoever thought of that palm branch thing was genius. Hosanna in the highest indeed. That’s our guy.
But there they were just eating dinner upstairs in some guy’s house when …all of the sudden Jesus, the teacher, messiah, LORD is taking off his cloak and as though he completely lost his mind is wrapping around himself not the mantle of a mighty ruler, but the towel of a servant girl.
Well, you’re not getting anywhere near my nasty feet Jesus.
To have one’s feet washed, to be served by another is for them to see and to know that you are covered with grime and filth. I’ll just keep that to myself, thank you very much. But the dirt is inevitable and not the result of anything but our journey as the broken. To not have the dirt is to not have been on the road at all. Dirt is simply the inevitable experience of the ambulatory. Yes we too need to be washed of the buildup of being simply ourselves in the world. As Jesus tells Peter, we are washed in God’s grace and yes entirely clean yet still in need of washing off that which has clung to us, the dusty daily remnant of brokenness. But just the feet, and it comes off pretty easily, with the hearing of the word with the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood, with the proclamation of forgiveness, with the power of reconciliation. It comes off of us in beloved community. This community gathered around Water, Bread, Wine. The brown paper of human existence, yet wrapped around God’s own self.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another. If you have Agape for one another. Agape, the derivative love which is only possible from the indwelling of God’s spirit. Agape one another. Not try and manage a deep fondness for the irritating. Not try and create warm feelings toward the unlikable, the socially awkward, the unlovely. Jesus knew better than to imply that if his followers could only muster up enough niceness they would be up to the task of following him. Instead here in plain brown paper wrapping is God incarnate wrapped in the towel of a servant girl washing us from that which separates us from self, neighbor and God. Here is Christ poured out for the sake of the world, offering God’s own self as nourishment for the journey. God’s self-giving provides us a source for the love we share, a love of the servant God poured out for us and for the sake of the world.
*These 5 sentences appear in my upcoming Theological Memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint you can pre-order here