Spoiler Alert: I’ll be preaching this as a sermon at St. John’s Hingham tonight at 7:30 pm. If you’re joining us for service (which you all should!) you may want to wait and hear it then.
When I preach, I typically wear heels. When people ask me why, I tell them it’s important for me to embrace being a femme leader in the church. Now, of course you can be femme in flats, but there’s something about claiming a little extra femme while I preach. It reminds me, and I hope others, that women are also called to lead the Church.
In addition, they make a great safety blanket. Heels elevate me, they give me a feeling of stature and command. When I take them off I instantly feel more approachable and, in being so, more vulnerable. Without the heels, or in the case of our gospel from today, without any shoes, our flaws, scratches, and not so pristine parts are visible. Our humanity is exposed. And, no one likes that.
That’s what made Jesus so different. He embraced rather than avoided humanity. He touched the scabs and sores of lepers, lovingly accepted the flaws of his followers, and showcased his own hunger and frustration.
And, if that wasn’t clear enough, during his final evening with his friends, he demonstrates an experience of love that is undeniably tied to encountering our humanity. What is more human than our feet? Or feet that sink and sweat? Or feet that are callused from the wear of life?
He says: when you share the imperfect parts of you with someone else and see the imperfect in another — then you will know love.
When I was writing this sermon I couldn’t stop thinking about a friend of mine who died recently from suicide. We met about two years ago; he was brilliant, beautiful, and utterly agitated by the voices in his head that denied these truths. The societal pressures of what it means to “be a man” combined with the violence experienced by black and brown communities constantly tormented him.
At one point, when I was visiting him in the hospital prior to his passing, his father said to me, “I’m not sure I ever knew my son. He was always so concerned with who he was supposed to be.”
He was always running. When we spent time together I would often ask him to stay a little longer, “just five more minutes,” hoping that if he just sat still long enough he could soak up his goodness. But that didn’t happen. He couldn’t soak up that love because soaking up the love required seeing and accepting his imperfect human parts too. And those parts were too much for him to bear.
In our Gospel text from today, when Jesus attempts to see the human parts of Peter, he refuses Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share in me.” He is so clear: if we are not willing to expose those parts of us, we won’t know his love. Our experience of love, of freedom, of release from pressures of this life, is tied up in our ability to be human.
Perhaps this is one reason our most intimate encounter with Jesus, Holy Eucharist, centers on remembering — literally, to be connected to him — through his most human parts, his body and blood.
“This is my body, broken for you.”
In Jesus’ body we are remembered to the physical, mental, and emotional suffering he endured. The suffering of betrayal, loneliness, and rejection that we all know. And, in lifting up his body we are invited to welcome rather than run from these moments of pain. To know that in our moments of deepest suffering we are not alone. Rather, we can remember that we are inextricably connected to God and one another: to embody the truth of Eucharist, that we who are many are One body, because we share one bread.
“This is my blood, shed for you.”
This is my blood, it was shed for you because of the human epidemic of violence. It was shed because we attack when we feel afraid, it was shed because we are taught that the safest way to stop a “bad man” with a gun is a “good man” with a gun, because we believe that hate can somehow drive out hate.
This is the aspect of humanity with which I struggle most; I can look at my ugly feet, and I can accept my own suffering, but I do not want to remember that I’m part of the perpetuation of the violence that results in oppression, segregation, racism, and innocent deaths of children in our streets and in our schools. But Jesus stands there, on his last night with us, and says: remember, reconnect to the truth that even though you perpetuate this violence, my Love will never leave you.
Although I can’t fully explain it, I know our ability to give and receive love is tied to our willingness to accept our humanity, to expose our flaws, to share our sufferings, and to acknowledge our propensity to cause pain. And, I think that’s what Jesus was trying to leave his disciples with that last night.
He says: I’ve spent my life trying to model Love for you and, just in case you’ve missed it along the way, here are some tangible reminders of what it looks like: wash each other’s feet, share in one another’s pain, and tend to each other’s wounds.
What might change about the way we love one another if we remembered, literally were reconnected, to the truth that we are tied up in one another’s humanity?
How might compassion for ourselves motivate us to let go of unrealistic standards of wealth, beauty or power and embrace humanity? Instead of exhausting ourselves to do and be we could embrace a freedom that allows us to more fully know ourselves and those around us. I imagine that actually being present to the pain of depression, the fear of being ripped from one’s home, or the fragility of living on minimum wage would change our hearts. We’d love as God loved.
And, in doing so, we’d begin to deeply identify with the pain of others. This sort of love compels us to become keenly aware of the ways we benefit from systemic oppression. We are no longer satisfied knowing that our children attend good schools where they are safe. Instead, we use our energy to overturn unjust practices that unfairly distribute resources, perpetuate poverty, and destroy families. And, in doing so, we glimpse the realm of God; we create a world in which all know they are loved.
In these holiest of days we are invited to consider this questions for ourselves: what might happen if we committed our lives to embodying God’s love, through the washing of the feet, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup?
If we “loved one another as I have loved you.”
Pray: Undo the lies of imperfection and separation we believe.
Reflect: What element of humanity most resonated with you in this reflection? What might that reveal about how the Spirit is moving in your life today?
Art: Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck