A Meal That Tasted of Freedom

April 13th 2017 Maundy Thursday
The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden

Listen to the audio

“On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom.” These words from a communion liturgy have been haunting me.

A meal that tasted of freedom. Faltering friends gathered, for a meal that tasted of freedom. This evening we gather to remember the Last Supper, that Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified the next day. This evening we gather to mark the next movement in the unfolding story of Holy Week, to touch the dust, the feet, to break the bread, and pour the water, to take the towel and bend down and wash each other’s feet.

When we were last together, we gathered with Jesus on Palm Sunday, this triumphal entry, as the people who were struggling and oppressed flooded to the streets crying out “Hosanna! Lord save us!” We walked these steps, praying and longing for the coming of justice and compassion, seeking the peace of the city, calling for people to be fed, and for mourning to be turned into joy. We held our palm branches high and claimed the promises of a kingdom that is beyond the brokenness of this world, while directly embedded in it. And as the people in Jerusalem longed for Jesus to come and save and change it all, we cried out for a king to save us, while knowing that the story has a twist coming.

I wonder by the time the disciples got to this Thursday Passover if they might have started getting wind of the plot twist. That this king, this savior, would not be rescuing them in the way they had thought and that the freedom he was offering was something beyond the economic bondage of empire they were stuck in. As they sat down to share the Passover Meal together, gathered in that upper room, I wonder if that longing for freedom was still lingering in the room as they celebrated the Passover that their ancestors had been cerebrating since the exodus so many generations ago, and that they desired now.

And here, again, Jesus doesn’t give them what they are looking for in the way they were looking for it. Instead, he tells them that the bread is his body, the cup his blood, and that if they really love each other, to wash each other’s feet.

And here’s the thing that slays me: As he shared these poignant moments and gave these acts of love, not only did he know he was going to be crucified, he knew that some of them would betray him. He knew that people were still fallible, fickle, human people, and even while knowing that, he loved them. And shared a meal with them. And washed their feet. He knew that he wasn’t going to change everything about their economics or the systems that oppressed them. And yet he knew that the freedom he offered—the resurrection, the love, the new life he pointed to—was beyond that, and right there in it.

He knew that right there in the bread, the wine, the dirty feet and the warm water, there is a freedom beyond their comprehension. Freedom that doesn’t come from dropping bombs or inciting violence, a freedom that isn’t won by building walls or removing “those people” from our community. No, it is the freedom to share a meal, and love and forgive and wash the feet of the very people that may betray you. The freedom to not be afraid. A freedom that comes in the messy, in the confusion, and even to the very death. A freedom in which we participate fully in the revolutionary acts of love and forgiveness. Jesus shows us, gives us, and invites us to participate in this freedom with him, and with each other.

“On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom.” May it be.

We’ve all Got Feet–A sermon for Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday 2016
Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA

Listen to the Audio

In 2008 I came down with a debilitating illness, one that put me on disability for months, and for many weeks of that had me lying on my friends’ couch, only able to walk tentatively to the bathroom and back, the rest of the time only able to lie on the couch. I had always prided myself in being a self-sufficient person, living on my own, taking care of my home, traveling solo, unplugging clogged disposals and changing car tires, taking meals to those who needed them, and being the one who was always available to help others. I didn’t need help, I didn’t need other people, I could do it all myself.

Until… I couldn’t do any of it myself. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t cook for myself. Or do laundry. Or drive. I couldn’t work. Or be productive. Or useful. Or accomplish things. And all I could do was be there. And receive. And be taken care of. And receive the love and care from others.

I will never forget the Maundy Thursday service that year. Even in my weak state, I didn’t want to miss the service. So a friend picked me up and drove me to church. She helped me walk slowly inside, where I was able to direct the final decorating and setting up of this service that every other year I had been intimately involved in preparing for and leading, and giving to others. It was a joy to be around the table with these people I loved, and to participate in worship with them. I soaked up the candles and the taste of the lamb in my mouth, and preciousness of being together in community.

And then it came time for foot washing. We drew names out of a bowl, and one by one, people came and took the hand of another and brought them up to the front of the sanctuary and washed their feet. I sat there in the candlelight, waiting and wondering. And then, a familiar hand came towards me. It was the pastor, but not just our pastor; this was my colleague, and dear friend. The person who, along with his wife and family (who already had a house filled with small children at the time) had been taking care of me during the months of my illness.

This was the person who had been cooking food that I could eat, and making sure I ate it. This was also the person who had been without a co-worker for all these weeks and months, and had been doing both his job and mine at church. The person who, probably more than anyone else, had been affected by my illness, and by the fact that I was not able to be doing things for others, let alone take care of myself. This was the person who was reaching out to follow Jesus’ example, love one another as I have loved you, wash each other’s feet. And I was the person who was to receive it.

10152019_1773450689554298_796215167823181571_nWe gather around tables tonight, to celebrate Maundy Thursday, Maundy, the mandatum, the mandate, the command to love one another, picturing and creatively wondering what it would have been like to be with Jesus that last night before his crucifixion as they gathered in that upper room in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal together.

This Passover meal had been being celebrated over the decades and centuries, since the Children of Israel, held as slaves in Egypt had first celebrated this meal on the eve of their liberation. Remembering how on God’s command, they had marked the doorposts of their homes with the blood from a lamb, as a sign that the angel of death should pass over them. They had eaten the bitter herbs and baked the unleavened bread, all eaten in preparation, as they were ready to make their move to freedom the next day. And this feast, remembered and celebrated every year since, in the years as they wandered through the desert, through the decades, to the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples, through the centuries to this day. The Passover is celebrated, and the God of liberation, the God who calls us to free those in bondage and free each other, is always moving in the way of liberation for captives, and freedom from the things that hold each of us in bondage.

As we share in our Passover meal together, we’re invited to continue to reflect on these questions as we share this meal of invitation, of liberation, of freedom. As we eat the lamb, we’re reminded of the innocence that God places within each one of us, the innocence that believes that joy is possible, the innocence that despite all the painful and hard things we’ve experienced, can still reach out for freedom and hope. We share the bitter herbs, reminding us of the temptations, the struggles along the way. That there are struggles, and they are part of the meal as well. We share the bread, the bread of life, God’s love incarnate in the world, and we remember the Love that is present here and present in our world, available to all.

12670549_1773483089551058_6020044807004343430_nIt’s during this feast of Passover, as Jesus and his disciples celebrated it in Jerusalem that year, around that table in the upper room that what we now refer to as “the Last Supper” was celebrated. It was during that meal that Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

And so, for the years and decades and centuries since, people have been gathering together around tables, throughout the world, in different languages and places and cultures, and doing this in remembrance of Jesus. In remembrance of these acts of love. Sometimes humans have gotten hung up on the who and the how and what of this sacred act. But the Spirit persists, and keeps calling us back to the table—God’s table—where all are welcome to feed and be fed. Expressing and experiencing the expansive love of God and the reciprocal love of other people.

And then, on that Last Supper Passover evening, Jesus takes the embodiment of love a step further, showing us how to love one another, as vulnerable as it can be. That last evening with his disciples, he took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. After he had washed their feet, put on his robe, and returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

5515_1773450799554287_3634859720897877678_nJesus gives us this command, to love one another, and then shows us an example of what that looks like. By humbling ourselves to each other, being willing to wash each other’s feet, yes, but maybe even more difficult for many of us, by being willing to have our feet washed by others.

Receiving the expansive love of God and the reciprocal love of others, means being vulnerable, admitting that we can’t do it all ourselves, to need each other, to care for each other. And that isn’t always easy, and it’s usually messy, and we may feel a little uncomfortable, vulnerable, shy. Because really seeing each other, following Christ’s example to love one another, it’s the real deal. It’s not something that can be kept clean and pristine, something we just talk about or think about. Following Jesus’ command to love one another means engaging with the messiness of life, helping others and letting them help us.

This vulnerability, this realness, is embedded in this very act of washing feet, because friends, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet because they were dirty. They hadn’t gone out to get their Maundy Thursday pedicures in preparation for this service. These men and women had been walking in the hot, dusty, Palestinian streets, wearing sandals; no doubt their feet were probably filthy, and dry, and in need of some attention. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet because they needed washing. And He told them, “as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have set you an example…do as I have done to you.”

12524248_1773483266217707_8263322057590132625_nFriends we all have feet. We all have feet. And we all have the parts of our lives that have been walking through the dust. That are messy, that are dirty, and that we don’t want to share with anyone. And being willing to take off our shoes, even our socks, and say to another person, “Yup, I’ve got feet just like you, I’ve got parts of my life that aren’t as pristine and put together as I would like to be.” I’ve got parts of myself that I have to say, “I can’t do it all by myself.” I have to receive. “These are the feet that Jesus washed, these are the feet that we’re commanded to love and wash for each other.

Just as the disciples let their teacher, their guide, their friend, bend down and wash their feet, as he saw them for who they are—messy, vulnerable, hurting, beautiful, and beloved people. Not loved because of how they got it right, because certainly the disciples rarely did. Not because of following the rules perfectly; Jesus was often breaking the cultural norms himself. Not because of what they had accomplished, or how they looked, or any other thing that we believe makes us worthy to be loved. No, Jesus bent down and washed his disciple’s feet just because he loved them. As they were. Dirty toe nails and all. Whole and messy, vulnerable and beautiful, loved, loved, loved. And then Jesus tells us to love each other, and do likewise.

12799411_1773464592886241_5030245574190186351_nOn that Maundy Thursday in 2008, I felt this love. As my friend and colleague came and took my hand and asked, “May I wash your feet?” and then bent down and carefully poured the warm water over my weak feet and dried them with a towel.

In a place of deep vulnerability, where I could not do it all myself or be “just be fine on my own,” I was shown love. Shown the love that is always available from God, no matter whether we feel we deserve it or not, and shown the love that the Lord invites us to show each other.

The love that we have we have an opportunity to share with each other, to be in community together, as we follow this command of Christ, love one another as I have loved you. Go now and do likewise…

Amen.