Friday, April 12, 2013

Shopping in Holy Week

Scripture for Easter Day includes Acts 10:34-43; I Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Last Sunday afternoon, I went shopping. That’s not my usual Sunday-afternoon pastime. Nor is it my forte, especially when the category is Housewares; so I was glad to have Diana with me as mission advisor. Our purpose: finding glass pitchers to hold water to pour on people’s feet on Maundy Thursday.

“Are you having a party?” asked the cheerful gracious young woman at check-out. As I reached for a reply, I sensed how unscripted a moment this was.

“We’re having a foot-washing,” I said, low on the thermometer of imagination.

“A what?” she asked.

My peripheral radar caught the movement of another customer’s head in our direction, from across the way. “Short answer or long answer?” I heard myself ask myself. Or was that prayer?

It could have been prayer. Perhaps it should have been prayer, because I still struck low on the inspiration scale when I answered, “It’s a ceremony at church before Easter.” Definitely short answer.

After a suitable pause, in which I imagine she might have been asking herself (or was that prayer?) how much more she really wanted to hear, she politely replied, “Have a good time!”

These short answers tell the story of collusion, from both sides of the counter, to keep it simple. But it isn’t simple, this longer story that brings so many of us together today.

How natural it is to expect that glass pitchers should be a sign of a celebration coming. And they are, but not until they help tell the story of the one with the pierced hands and feet, the one who poured himself out for us, emptied himself so as to fill all life with his presence.

Without this longer story, today’s story comes up short on imagination, low on inspiration. Before the Church’s pitchers get filled with the water of baptism to float new life in Christ, before they get filled with the fruit of the vine to unite us in joyful communion, first they are used to teach the Church her purpose, her mission in the world.

First, they get emptied onto our feet, and the one doing the pouring is Jesus.

Martin Smith in his brilliant Lenten book A Season for the Spirit says, “It is one thing to look up to Jesus in prayer as Master and Lord. It is altogether another thing to look down at him, to see him looking up at me and to allow him to wash my feet.” But until I get beyond my resistance to being served by him, until I am receptive to unqualified love, until I let him cross the distance and touch me, we aren’t walking the same path.

So down to earth is the Church’s calling that Jesus knows no better way than the washing of feet to reveal what renewal and refreshment mean, how sacrament operates, how hospitality expresses itself in care, how leadership lies cradled in humility, how community is served. And within and beyond all these revealings, his washing the feet of his followers shows them God, God’s intimate tender love; shows them God, shows them prayer in action, shows them the foundation of trust—and shows all this not to their thinking minds, but to their bunions, their plantar warts, their split heels, their tired feet, their side-stepping feet, their best feet forward, their running feet, their dancing feet.

The long story that brings us here today is not about talking the talk. It is about walking the walk. In Luke’s Easter story, the women walk to the tomb, mastering the fear that keeps the men in hiding, the fear that they too will be arrested. Suddenly, these women are face to face with two angels who redirect their journey.

“You won’t find Jesus in this cemetery,” they tell the women. “You’ll find him on the road, walking where you walk, renewing the fellowship of foot-washers right where you live, right where you work.”

Walking the walk of Christian faith is the longer story of what draws us together. In our growth as people who practice faith, in our getting good at foot-washing, we need each other to keep guiding our feet, holding them to the fire of Christ’s love. It takes a community to keep raising a Christian from within each of us. And it takes a plan.

A green insert in your leaflet today offers the makings of a plan. We call it A Confirmation Covenant because it describes what we ask of people—from teenaged young adults on up—who believe it’s time for them to make their own affirmation of faith and their intention to act on it. Several teenagers and older adults are preparing to take that step on Sunday, June 9th, when our Bishop, Doug Fisher, makes his first visitation here.

Last Sunday, in this place and about this hour, I promised those candidates that St. John’s will tangibly support them as they prepare. The central way we do that is to commit ourselves to the same action plan that they’re being asked to follow. Between today and June 9th are ten weeks. I invite you to consider signing on to these same commitments for these ten weeks. Discover by experience how these six influences may shape your faith as it continues to be formed in the crucible of your life now.

For some of you, these commitments are already yours (though I’ll bet you’ll find at least one or two that deserve a spring tune-up). For some of you, this invitation may not feel like a next step you want to take (or perhaps it will seem like too many steps all at once). I have high hopes, though, that many of you will find a way to make something of this request, this opportunity to give God on Easter Day not a short answer, but a long one; and, in the giving, find that you will receive.