Maundy Thursday 2018
March 29, 2018
by Deacon Student Luke Allgeyer
a few weeks ago
on ash wednesday
if you received ashes
you probably heard the same thing
that has been said
since god banished the first humans
from the garden of eden.
for those who didn’t get ashes
on ash wednesday
i’ll repeat those words for you now
just so that they’re in the air.
“remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
on ash wednesday this year,
with a black cross on my forehead
i went to the aquarium
in part because it was a day that illinois residents could get in free,
but more so because i needed to be around other, nonhuman living things.
creatures of dust like myself.
as i walked around
in the blue glow of the tanks
as light filtered through,
and i started thinking to myself:
yes, okay, i am dust, sure.
but am i not also water?
i have three facts about water
i want to share with you all today
FACT NUMBER ONE:
the earth’s surface is 71% water.
most of that is salt water,
about 97% of it.
the other 3% is fresh water.
and HALF of that is frozen in glaciers and ice caps.
all the freshwater lakes in the world,
lakes like our own lake michigan
make up only 7 one-thousandths of a percent.
and lake michigan is only part of that.
there is also what’s called
which is water that is within you.
and all the fish at the aquarium
and every other living thing from the biggest blue whales
to the smallest plankton that they munch on.
we all contain within us
all the water within every living thing you’ve ever encounter in your life.
and it only amounts
of all the water in the world.
of which you
are only part.
all of this is to say
we have been given a lot of water.
FACT NUMBER TWO:
the human body is about 50-60% water.
which makes us a little less watery than the planet,
but makes it seem
at least to me
like the planet we live on
are more water
than we are dust.
FACT NUMBER THREE:
the human person can survive for only a few days without water.
it is essential to our being,
to our thriving.
water is necessary
for all life on earth.
even desert plants
which don’t experience a rainstorm
for years on end
must either store up water within themselves
or lay dormant in a state that looks a lot like death
until the rain finally comes.
even more than food
—the stuff of the earth,
the other stuff of dust—
we require water
in order to prevent ourselves
from returning to dust.
as important as water is
for our planet
and for ourselves,
it is just as important
in the pages of the bible.
in the bible
is what signifies relationship.
it is in the waters of the jordan river
that we see for the first time
God appearing together as three persons:
the voice of God from heaven, creator of all there is, declaring;
Jesus the Messiah, God with us humans, who is then anointed by;
the Holy Spirit, taking the form of a dove.
it is at the well
that Jesus meets the Samaritan woman
and affirms the potential of relationship
where most assume that it is impossible.
today we recognize
the very first communion
(which, by the way, literally means common participation,
being with others,
and we do so with wine,
which, as his first miracle
Jesus once created from water.
and this was at a wedding of all places
so, i mean, talk about a relationship, right?
later we will learn
that water flows alongside blood
as it pours forth from christ’s wound
in the moment of his death
in the moment that God’s relationship with humanity
in today’s gospel
we encounter a Jesus
who uses water to redefine what relationships might be.
in this reading from the gospel of john
begins to wash his disciples’ feet,
and eventually makes it to peter.
now, in true peter fashion,
peter protests this action.
“lord,” he says to jesus,
“you shouldn’t be washing my feet.
this should be the other way around.
it is i that should be washing your feet.”
but jesus tells him otherwise.
in a cryptic way,
jesus informs peter that
there can be no relationship between the two of them
unless peter allows his lord
to wash his feet.
john tells us that jesus recognizes this power within himself
—that is, the power to invert and redefine
what it means to be in relationship—
because it has been given to him by god.
god has “given all things into his hands,”
and because of this,
jesus has the freedom
“to love his own who were in the world,”
and “love them to the end.”
and what an act of love we witness.
precisely because it is not appropriate for a teacher
to wash the feet of his students,
jesus’ act of stooping low
—to the part of the body that is closest to dirt
this act alone
reconfigures what it means
and to be loved.
if the roles were reversed,
if it was peter washing the feet of jesus,
that is, a student washing the feet of a teacher,
the sentiment of love would be different.
that is an act that is expected,
that in other circumstances,
we might say the teacher
to have his feet washed.
this kind of action, though,
doesn’t necessarily show love as jesus loves—
that kind of action,
of following the status quo,
it betrays presumptions.
it depends on an economy
or who “deserves” what.
as he explains after washing peter’s feet,
does so not out of conditioning,
not out of expectation,
and not because peter deserved it,
but instead out of the opposite
of all those things:
a love that is unconditional,
by washing the feet of his disciples
jesus is showing them
doesn’t need to be based
on how obedient you are,
how great a servant or student you are,
whether you say the right things,
whether your feet are clean,
whether you have power
and command love and respect
—as jesus could have,
as god could also.
jesus inverts this
and shows us that love
has no requirements,
it doesn’t recognize relationships
as hierarchies of power.
it doesn’t define relationships
through an economy of give and take.
it doesn’t require relationships
to be clean or spotless
in order to be filled with love,
because it is precisely this kind of love
that washes us clean to begin with.
it is this unconditional love that cleanses us
of the stains that pop up
when we try to prove ourselves worthy
of being loved.
this love of god
—a love that can wipe clean our relationships,
clean from fear, from embarrassment, from shame—
this love sets us free
to love all those around us,
to trust in the example that jesus set,
to love one another
as god loves us
—with a love that is unconditional
and displays that love
for all to see.
this example that jesus has set
becomes further proof
that by showing radical love,
love that inverts the status quo
we can truly show the love of god.
for “servants are not greater than their master,”
jesus reminds the disciples,
which makes it sound like he is trying
to remind them of their place in the world.
“if you know these things,”
things that the world would have us know,
that servants are not greater than their masters,
that the voices of teenagers
are not strong enough
to change policy in america;
that undocumented immigrants
do not deserve to have the same human rights
as the people who employ them;
that those who live
on the south side of our own city
should live in expectation of being shot,
while elsewhere in the city
people can walk without fear;
that certain black families do not deserve greatness
like the law enforcement officers
who unjustly kill their loved ones on the street;
in another time in this nation’s history,
could have been considered
the masters of those families.
“servants are not greater than their masters”
and if we,
those who follow his example,
know these things,
we are blessed,
—we are blessed—
in the knowledge that we are transforming what it means to love
we kneel to the ground
to those who society considers
its dirt and grime
where they are forced to live
by those who have the power to be their masters,
and we wash them clean
with the waters of our love.
god has already chosen to love us,
and shows us that love
as jesus washing peter’s feet.
and because god chooses to love us,
god gives us a new commandment
that we can choose to follow:
love in a way that is unexpected,
that defies the status quo,
that has people saying to you,
“you will never love me that way,
i don’t believe you,
to love me that way is beneath you,
you would never give up the things
you need to give up
in order to love me in such a way.”
love in a way that opens you up
to the love of others,
that by washing their feet,
you are also able
to allow them to wash yours.
forming a relationship
built on love,
not on exchange or commodity who deserves what.
love in a way that cleanses
all those who struggle in the face
of a world that would rather have them remain
covered in dust and dirt.
love in a way
that has the power
to transform relationships,
to transform the world.
we have been given so much water—
whether it is salty, fresh, biological,
it is around us,
it is within us,
jesus has shown us
simply by washing the feet of his disciples
that we have been freed to love.
and we have been freed not only to give
but to accept love.
we have been freed to share the deepest parts of ourselves
with those who eat and drink beside us.
we have been freed to allow ourselves to be vulnerable—
to stoop and wash the feet of others without fear,
but also to let others wash our feet,
knowing what it means
to have such a powerful relationship.
we are free to center our relationships
on unconditional love
because we have already been washed clean
of the dirt and grime
that stains the love we so wish to show.
“just as i have loved you,” jesus says to us,
“so you should love one another.”
that you are dust.
but as we wash each others’ feet tonight,
as we turn to face the horror of the cross,
as we sit the vigil before the mystery of easter,
even more than dust
you are water.