Love to the end

Maundy Thursday

In the name of Christ, who having loved us, loves us to the end.  Amen.

We’re at the beginning of the holiest time in the Christian year.  We call this week “Holy Week”, but it’s really these next few days that bring it all to a head.  If our life together through the course of a year in the church were a movie – this would be the climax.  But unlike some Hollywood creation, it doesn’t signify the end of the story.  It’s not really the beginning either – but a turning point, through which our life really finds its purpose.

Typically, on Maundy Thursday, people get hung up on the “feet”.  I remember growing up in the South, we always heard about the “foot washin’ Baptists” – it’s important to remember that it’s not “foot washing Baptists”, but “foot washin’ Baptists”, there’s no “g” on the end of that word.  But, the “foot washin’ Baptists” weren’t your typical breed of Southern Baptists.  They were the ones on the fringes.  In our proper Episcopal Churches, we may get sort of uncomfortable thinking about “Evangelicals” and what all that might mean to our usual staid, proper expressions of faith.  But the “foot washin’ Baptists” were the ones whom even the run-of-the-mill Evangelicals would get nervous about.  They were just one step closer to “polite society” than the snake-handlers.

And Maundy Thursday is the one day that we Episcopalians can start to look more like “foot washin’ Baptists” than we’d typically prefer.  So in our churches, when we do the liturgy of the foot washing, we go out of our way to sanitize the process.  Sometimes we’ll bring out beautiful, ornate basins and pitchers.  We’ll warm the water.  We’ll politely stand in line and wait our turn.  And most of us will politely opt-out from participating altogether.

But the end result of it is that, in most of our minds at least, it seems to become all about the feet.  But for Jesus, it wasn’t about the feet.  It was about the love.

Sometime, if you’re in the mood to hear a gross, and in retrospect, sort of funny story, ask Michael to tell you about the time I got food poisoning.  The story goes about how you’d probably expect, but still, his telling is pretty good.

But what makes that story so meaningful in our relationship is that for me, it’s a story of being loved in a deep way that defies words.  I was loved even through one of my lowest, most undesirable moments.

That’s more akin to what’s happening in John’s account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet than any liturgy we could ever concoct.

The point isn’t the feet.  It isn’t even the washing, really.  The point of this story is the profound love that Jesus showed to his friends, and through them and through Christ’s followers of every age, the profound love that Christ still shows for us.

Before the meal, Jesus takes the dirtiest, most exposed and vulnerable parts of them.  And he cradles them, and ministers to them.  He loves them.  It’s a model for that new commandment he gives.  He says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

I don’t think it’s about the feet.  But I do think Christ is calling us to find those dirtiest and most vulnerable parts of ourselves and to realize that they, too, are loved.  Those places within and about ourselves that we most wish weren’t true, and to realize that Christ loves even that.  And moreover and more importantly, we are being called to love those worst parts of each other.  The dirty parts.  The vulnerable and unlovable parts.  The parts that most people wish were perfectly hidden and forgotten.

That’s the test of loving each other as Christ loved us.  Not just loving the parts that make us feel good, but loving the parts that make us feel gross.  Love knows no bounds.  That’s what Jesus modeled for us.

As the story progresses, and as Jesus makes his way to the cross, he keeps modeling that boundless love.  As a social order turns against him and condemns him to death, he keeps loving.  He loves us to the end.

He loves us through the most grotesque parts of ourselves as individuals, and the most shameful parts of ourselves as a society.

And that’s the story that these few days will tell us.  The story of love until the end.  Amen.