By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
I spent several years as the religion teacher at an Episcopal day school in Baton Rouge. I taught about 300 students from PreK – 5th grade. They called me Church Lady and I loved it. I wish I had written down all the things they said and did, because there are some hysterical and profound stories.
One day I was teaching the story of the Good Shepherd to a group of Kindergartners. I talked about how the Good Shepherd led his sheep to green pastures and cool still waters and through the dark rocky places. I told them that the Good Shepherd knew all his sheep by name and if even one of them was missing he would go out to find them and bring them home. I used big pieces of felt and small wooden sheep and shepherd to tell the story. At the end of the story, Warren, a darling, precocious boy with strawberry blond curls and freckles all over his big moon face shook his head. He had the best gravelly little voice I had ever heard from a 5-year-old.
I don’t know Miss Amelia….”That Good Shepherd must have had some kind of good GPS system to not get lost out there.”
Warren, the son of an avid Louisiana outdoorsman, knew how easy it is to get lost travelling in the wilderness without some help.
David helped us start off this Lenten season by reminding us that God has a burning question for us all, and it has been his question since the garden…. Where are you? We humans have gotten very good at hiding. From God. From each other and from ourselves. And the call of Lent is to try to stop hiding so much and show up. Not an easy task.
Tonight, the way I see it, Jesus gives us some ways to make showing up for God a bit easier. Jesus offers some ways to stay in connection with him. THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN FIND ME he seems to say. The Good Shepherd, who will forever look for us wants us to know how we can find him too.
In tonight’s reading we find Jesus and his disciples are all gathered in Jerusalem. A room for a meal has been secured. Things are pretty dicey for Jesus and his followers. There is talk of bad things happening. There is a lot of tension and anxiety. They arrive to prepare for dinner. But before that the custom of washing feet needs to be tended too. This was a traditional way to get ready. It makes sense. Sandals and dirt covered roadways don’t make for neat and tidy feet. Upon arriving at the home of someone the servant, or the next lowest in rank, would be tasked with washing the feet of the guests. It was a way of honoring the guest, showing hospitality. But it was always done by someone in a subservient position to the guest.
In tonight’s story Jesus throws that tradition out on its ear. Once they are all gathered, he puts on an apron and begins to call them forward to have their feet washed. This is completely unsettling to his friends. Just plain wrong in their understanding.
I’ve got to say I understand their hesitancy. Also, to be honest I’d rather be up here in a leotard performing a liturgical dance than having my feet washed. So, for me the thought of allowing Jesus to wash much less touch my feet is troubling too. It is uncomfortable on so many levels to me. It is both vulnerable and awkward. And clearly the disciples had some problems with this idea too.
But Jesus says… Unless you do this you have no part of me. Being a part of the way of love that Jesus is bringing into the world means both becoming vulnerable and allowing ourselves to be served by him. Then he tells them to humble themselves and serve others as He has served them. I give you a new commandment he says….Love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus shows his disciples and us that we can find him both in our most tender hidden and vulnerable places and in offering ourselves in service to others. When Jesus seems lost or distant to us, this is where we can seek him out. My guess is we have all experienced this is some way. Finding Jesus in the places where we are most vulnerable. Where we are as uncomfortable as we can possibly be. Finding Jesus when we humble ourselves to serve others with no plan or expectation.
I give you a new commandment Love One Another. We will find Jesus when we love each other up.
After Jesus has made everyone feel incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable and really challenged them I guess he decided he needed to move onto something a little more familiar. So they head to the table for a meal. Except it wasn’t just a meal it was The Last Supper. We now have made this meal into a holy practice. The Eucharist.
I had another dear student at the day school, Carly. Carly came to us in PreK and was a spunky little bit of a thing. But just before her Kindergarten year started her mother died of cancer. Thankfully she had a loving family and we loved her up as best we could each day at school. She prayed for her mama sometimes when I asked the children for their intercessions and she talked sometimes about how much she missed her.
Every Friday the school gathered for a Eucharist. For the All Saints Day Eucharist we spent time talking beforehand about the saints who have gone before us. We made banners for specific saints and talked about those who have died. It was a fantastic service every year. On the All Saints Day service just months after Carly’s mother had died, I noticed before the service that Carly had a picture of her mom in her hands. I got a big lump in my throat wondering how this precious 5-year-old girl was managing this day. I happened to be up near the altar when Carly made her way to the communion rail. As she knelt down she held her mama’s picture up above her. I have no idea how the priest made it through but he prayed with Carly right there.
Do this in remembrance of me, Jesus tells us. Come to this table to remember that great love we are called into. Come to remember the sacrificial nature of love. Remember Jesus’ sacrifice that will conquer death and bridge the divide between us and the Kingdom of God through love.
In our communion prayer for the season of Lent we have recalled that it is… with all the heavenly chorus, with prophets and apostles and martyrs and with every generation who have looked to you in hope… that we come to the table to share in this meal.
All of us from generation to generation come to this table. Carly reminds me of that. Carly and her mama together at this table.
The Eucharistic prayer also reminds us that we come to the table not only for solace, but for strength. Not only for pardon, but for renewal.
We come to be fed allowing ourselves to be served so that we can serve others in love. We allow ourselves to feel the wideness of God’s mercy so that we can extend it to others.
And we come to join with the generations who have gone before us.
Who do you meet at the table? Whose picture do you carry to this rail with you? Knowing that they are here with us along with the angels and apostles and martyrs?
Jesus out of his unfathomable love, the kind of love that is as tender as to wash our feet, the kind of love that feeds us, and the kind that has forever tied us to those who have gone before us in hope. He stands here tonight saying Here is where you will find me. Thank God the Good Shepherd has given us our GPS systems that have guided us here.