April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4,(5-10),11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Psalm 116:1, 10-17


On this night we anticipate grief and loss.  On this night we project that anticipatory grief onto Jesus hoi paloi – the followers who are called in Greek “his own.”  Jesus on this night washes their feet to interrupt a pattern of expectation and comportment.  Through foot washing he sets for them a new neural pathway, a bodily experience of what love feels like.  And that experience will become a bodily memory that they will instinctively know how to repeat.  In being washed by their teacher, they gain a sensation of a new way of being divinely present to each other; a love pattern that can multiply similar to so many loaves and fishes.

 Martin Buber, a Vienna born Jewish philosopher of the 20th century, wrote a classic text titled, “I & Thou.”  Through it he reflects the ways that the relationships between two earthy beings are transcendent.  To make his point, he uses an unlikely example of a tree.

I contemplate a tree

I can accept it a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light…

I can assign it a species and observe it as an instance…

Throughout all of this the tree remains my object

But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It.

(I) Should try not to dilute the meaning of the relation:

Relation is reciprocity.

I can hear the echoes of Buber’s teaching now.  I can hear him asking us, “How can we relate one another in graceful, reciprocal ways?  Those in this room.  Those outside in this city.  Every tree, lady bug and lightening bolt.”  How can we relate to ‘the other’ such that the other is no longer an ‘it’?

The feet of Jesus’ washing are like the tree of Buber’s contemplation.  They are seemingly a subject of water and cloth; a subject in need of cleansing.  But in fact they serve as Jesus’ portal into the soul of his friends.  Their being washed by their teacher is their ultimate commissioning; their graduation day; their being sent forth in love.  But they did not like it, for it added confusion to what must have already been their state of anticipatory loss and grief.

But still the foot washing was a gift so much like the quilt Susan Surrandon’s character bestows upon her young children just before she dies of cancer in the movie, “Stepmom.” The sews into it pictures of herself and her children.  The quilt and the washing are both sacraments of love; both a promise of eternal, ethereal connection.  And both are brilliant expression of Martin Buber’s philosophy of “I and Thou.”  It is like the reciprocal Asian bow that says “the God in me acknowledges the God in you.”  I and Thou.

The foot washing by Jesus was a gesture that once received would not be forgotten but rather replicated until even today.  For the bodily memory of loving acts cannot be denied.  And its impact may be best captured by Francis J. Moloney who wrote:

As the knowledge and love of Jesus flowed into action, so must the knowledge and love of the disciple flow into action.  Therein lies blessedness.