Thursday, April 14, 2022
By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
Texie Laing, a dear five year old member of this congregation, has single handedly made this year’s celebration of Lent a better one for me. This is not because she said something particularly sparkling or insightful or I saw her engage in some amazing act of kindness. Although she is sparkling, insightful and kind to be sure.
Texie has made Lent better for me because of her willingness to struggle. I like people who are honest about their struggles. In a culture of toxic positivity that I all too often participate in, being real about what hurts and confounds us is a gift.
Texie arrived in children’s chapel a few weeks ago with a furrowed brough. I wasn’t sure why. But, everybody is allowed furrowed brough days and I thought this might just be one of those days for Texie. David was telling the story of Moses and the burning bush to the children that morning. At some point I looked over and Texie had covered her ears with her hands. I wondered if it was David’s deep, booming voice that was causing her alarm, but he really wasn’t being that loud. But again, Texie is five, it was a furrowed brow day already, and I just assumed that was the problem.
It turns out that on the way to church that morning, Texie’s older brother Bo, had explained exactly what happened to Jesus, the part that happens on Good Friday. And that had sent Texie into a tailspin. By the time David got the part about Moses MURDERING AN EGPTIAN in his story Texie had enough of the awfulness for one day.
Throughout the rest of Lent I have watched Texie struggle with the story of Easter. And I love her for the honesty of her struggle.
The very day that I learned about Texie’s rumbling with the Easter story I came upon a letter that children’s author, Kate DiCamillo, had written to another writer who had asked a question about how to be honest with young readers about hard truths.
In the letter she recalls that her dear childhood friend was constantly reading Charlotte’s Web, the bittersweet classic EB White book about the extraordinary pig, Wilbur and his sage friend Charlotte, the spider. Later in life DiCamillo asked her friend,
“What was it that made you read and reread that book? Did you think that if you read it again, things would turn out differently, better? That Charlotte wouldn’t die?”
Her friend replied “No, it wasn’t that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to turn out differently.
I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn’t bear it, but when I read it again, it was all so beautiful.
And I found out that I could bear it. That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear, that I could bear it somehow.”
I know that for me the story I return to over and over, searching for a way to endure this life is the one we celebrate tonight – Jesus washing the feet of his friends and Jesus setting the table and serving the feast that we have celebrated ever since.
This is also a service that forces me to be vulnerable, to be uncomfortable in public and in my own heart. Partly because of my feet. Because I have to take my shoes off right here in a few minutes. And partly because I struggle with the idea that Jesus could really love me as much as he does.
Here’s the thing about feet. I like wearing shoes. I know some people take their shoes off the moment they hit the door at home. Not me. My shoes end up in piles right beside my bed because that is where they finally come off. This is unless I have stupidly chosen to wear heels and I will discard those as soon as possible.
Here is the loop that is on repeat in my brain…Waking hours are for working. Working requires shoes. And who am I if it is not the work I do.
Please know that I am not really that industrious a worker and also I watch Netflix while wearing my shoes.
But that’s the circuit in my brain. Awake = Work and Shoes = Work and Work = Worthy. It’s a mis wired circuit and Jesus shows exactly why in this Gospel.
In tonight’s Gospel, Jesus carefully tends to his disciples by washing their feet as was the custom of the day. Peter takes great offense at Jesus being the one doing the washing as I assume I would as well. Who am I to let Jesus wash my feet? Also, that would mean taking my shoes off. And if my shoes are off I’m not working. And if I’m not working why would Jesus even think I am worthy to have my feet washed?
Jesus pushes back at Peter saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Unless you see yourself the way I see you, as beloved, worth my time, my love, my effort, worth my very life you cannot understand who I am and what I am asking you to do.
Jesus then tells the disciples that his time left with them is short. And his last instructions to them, his last commandment to them is this
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Love each other just as tenderly as I have loved you. Not as your master, but as a friend, as one who loves you just the way you are.
Jesus loves us even with our feet in his face, our smelly, weird pinky toed humanity in full view. And Jesus commands us to love each other like that.
Each of us comes here tonight with things that we struggle with. Maybe you share some of the struggles I have mentioned. There are stories and circumstances that seem too hard to speak aloud. Questions that haunt or enrage us. Broken relationships. Old wounds that despite our best efforts won’t heal over. There are so many things in this life that are just about unbearable.
And here tonight, before the chaos of the what is to come – before Jesus is arrested, before the walk to Calvary, before the tomb – Jesus calls us all together to hold us close, asking us to do one of the most difficult and vulnerable things we could possibly do. To let Him love us, to really let him love us, and then to love our fellow humans just the same way.
After the washing of feet, we will come to the table and remember that Jesus also fed his disciples this night. And in doing so he began a feast in which he continues to feed us. This feast that is shared in churches and hospitals and prisons and battlefields and bomb shelters and simple homes all over the world. This feast that has been handed down from generation to generation of believers. The feast in which we are fed what we need to bear what is unbearable and to carry out the work Jesus called us to. To love as he loves.
The hours between now and Easter Sunday are long. I pray that we all struggle alongside Texie as we face an intolerable loss at the cross tomorrow.
But for tonight, let us share in this bittersweet story. The story we need to hear again and again. To remember that before Jesus faces the cross he tends us and feeds us, giving us a way to make it through.
I went back in the last few weeks and picked up Charlotte’s Web again. My mother first read it to me when I was very little and I read it often as a child.
There is an exchange between Charlotte and Wilbur near the end of the book. Charlotte is dying, as spiders do after they have laid their eggs, but Wilbur is unaware of this. They are both basking in Wilbur’s victory as a prized pig, thus assuring his life and keeping him from the butcher’s axe. This victory has been made possible by Charlotte and her extraordinary web weaving skills and wisdom and mostly her love for Wilbur.
Wilbur asks Charlotte,
“Why did you do all this for me? I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
I hope Texie reads this story one day. I hope that like DiCamillo’s friend she finds the beauty in loss and love that EB White gave so perfectly for his readers.
I don’t know what Texie’s path to learning to bear the grief of the crucifixion will be. I have faith that she and God will work it through on their own terms. And I have faith that her willingness to struggle with it means that she might in time learn how much in this life she can bear because of the love of Christ. The love shared as Jesus washes the feet of his friends and feeds them. I have faith that she will come to know that she is washed and fed and loved.