Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

About this sermon series

 John 13:1-7

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from
this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,  got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

O Lord uphold me that I might uplift thee. Amen

Tonight, we read the Maundy Thursday lesson from the Gospel of John. By all accounts,
this should be a wildly anxious night for Jesus. He would not sleep that night. We know that
much. But instead of checking the windows frantically, or stuffing himself with bread to calm his nerves, which is often my go-to, or making fastidious plans so that the twelve knew exactly what to do next, he did something else.
He got very quiet. He got a towel. He poured water. He began to wash their feet.
This year, I am struck to the core by Jesus’ relationship to time.
Time does not mess around. It does not negotiate. 24 hours is dealt out to each of us the
same. It pounds in our ears. Tick tock tick tock, this little drummer boy of mortality. But when time got very loud, pounding on the door, saying “the hour has come!” Jesus got very quiet. And as his time dripped away, he dripped water on Peter’s feet. From the disciples’ vantage point, this exercise was absurdly optional. And yet for Jesus, it was a supreme act of love.

For most of my life, I have not been so sure that time was my friend. I seem to battle it,
press against, hack at it, like someone running against the wind. I know which traffic lights are the slowest. I know which cashier might be the quickest. I have a to-do list sometimes looks like a dare, and when I fit all the things in, I rejoice like Mary Lou Retton that Olympic gymnast sticking the landing. I am time fighter. Pastor Walton knows this about me. On the many occasions when we have been in ministry together, from our bus tour around Virginia in 2019 to interrogate the places where the racial pain of the past cries out from the ground to times in this sanctuary when a preacher was getting … a bit comfortable in the pulpit…. I have been known to tap my clip board “Should I move this along?” And he usually responds, “Let it be.” All that to say, I am rarely a time bather, certainly not when my heart is breaking like I imagine Jesus’ was.
I don’t think I am alone in this. When you are lonely, when you are waiting for pain meds
at the hospital, when the doctor or the family member has not yet called with the news, time feels suffocating, doesn’t it? When the pressures mount at work or home, when the runway for what you need to do or decide shortens, when the diagnosis comes, we feel heat. We feel panic. It can feel like the great bridges of our lives are collapsing around us.
But tonight, Jesus kneels into time. Bows into it. Crouches low near the water. Goes at
the vulnerable place where time and dust from the road mingle. And he washes their feet. Notice how the text says, “His hour had come. He loved them until the end.” That is the movement, those are the words, of someone who has a peaceable, even cosmic, relationship with time. Time is a part of God’s creation, as is life and love and suffering and death. Time is in God’s hands, as are the embarrassing and messy parts of our humanity, so Jesus models for us how we are to live.
Be still. Kneel. Serve. Let someone else serve you, even if it is awkward. Several years ago, my parents came to town for my son Davis’ birthday. And because I am a doer, we had a full itinerary. Calm and stillness were not on my list. In fact, we ran out of time to do the one calm thing, a girls’ trip to get pedicures. But this was a problem. If you mention nails to a 9-year-old girl like my daughter was at the time, there must be nails. So, in the make-shift magic that is parenting, I suggested, “We could just do nails at home.” Never mind that I don’t have the fancy chair or the fancy staff at the ready to deliver on this. All I had was a
large melamine bowl. All I had was a box of accumulated nail supplies and polishes, most of which had separated and hardened like a fossil exhibit at a museum. But I had already announced the plan, so there was no turning back.
I filled with yellow bowl with warm water. I brought the bowl over to my mother, being
careful not to slosh it all over the kitchen floor, because cleaning that up takes time. This slow walking, it felt liturgical. Then she slid her feet into the water. I carefully removed the old polish.
Quietly rubbed in the lotion. Attentively, trimmed and cleaned her toenails. Mom is wildly
ticklish so her foot would jerk occasionally as she laughed. I am used to this too since I have
seen her whinny in nail salons before. I wanted to apply a shiny red lacquer, but she wanted to put back on her socks. No shocker: Socks won out. And in an unspoken way, we rehearsed the dance of helping and letting be, getting involved, laying off, that mother daughter dance that has been going on for centuries. The whole thing took about 20 minutes, from slosh to socks, but in my mind, it felt much longer.
I have read more than once that there are two different kinds of time. There is chronos
time. Measured in seconds, minutes, hours, years. Chronos time is the 6 pm dinner reservation. Chronos time, the agonizing estimated time in traffic, 12 minutes. Chronos time, the conference call that starts at 1 pm. Chronos time, the howling hours that Jesus spent praying that night as his arrest drew near. Chronos time, the disciples 25 minute cat naps as their eyes burned with exhaustion. Chronos time, the Passover drawing near. We inhabit chronos time. That is where we live.
But then there is Kairos time. Kairos means holy time. It’s God’s time. It’s time that
swells thick with meaning, time that bellows full at beginnings and chokes with endings, time that freezes at a moment that will only be understood later. Time that melts with love. Arundati Roy wrote about this kind of time saying, “The air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

Kairos time is when Jesus holds their feet, holds the least glamorous part of them, holds the messy part of them, the parts of them that are prone to abandon him and walk away, and
washes them clean like he will that deeply human part of all of us. Kairos is the role reversal. Kairos is the way love humbles everything it touches. Kairos is kneeling on the earth, back to the baptismal waters, ahead of the baptism of his death and resurrection, frozen time. Holy time. Kairos.
I can’t always access that holy time. My phone rings. My to-do list pokes me. But, when
I held my mom’s feet that day, I wondered… how many times had those feet had been there for me, Kairos. How many times had those feet stood on tip toes to witness my life, ran to keep my big wheel trike from going into oncoming traffic, put petal to the metal so I would make it to tennis practice, jumped in the pool fully clothed to help my sister who had decided to go swimming around age 2, tapped that foot while I was in surgery. Remembering those brave beautiful feet, Kairos. Feeling the role reversal, praying that some of her brave would slosh into me, Kairos. Saying none of these big things and knowing that too was ok.

My mother passed away during Lent in 2020 and now I think about what a gift it was to
have washed those feet, feet that are even now in dancing in the presence of Christ. That thought truly takes my breath away and I feel Kairos in my shoes.
I can’t say for sure, but I think one of the real drivers of chronic anxiety in our world is
not really the lack of time to do things. We have the same amount of time we’ve always had as people. Even decades more for most people. But it might be the lack of Kairos time. Time to notice what just happened to us, time to pan the river of our lives for the chunks of gold in there.
John Swinton is an author and Presbyterian pastor in Scotland wrote a book called
Becoming Friends of Time. His ministry is devoted to people with advanced dementia. People whose experience of time is very different from many of us, different even than it had been for those same people a few years prior. His ministry is sharing time with them which requires slowing down. He reflects that the average speed a human being walks is 3 miles an hour. So, Jesus, who is God, walked at 3 mph. God who is love walked at 3 mph. That means — Love has a speed. It’s slower than we prefer. And that means, if you are moving too quickly, at say 55 or more mph, it’s difficult to love. Going that fast, you don’t notice the things that are in your present reality. You’re too busy moving past them. It’s hard for love to sink in at this speed.
Priest and author Henri Nouwen said, “We don’t think our way into a new way of living.
We live our way into a new way of thinking.” Maundy Thursday is a night set aside for some deliberately unusual practices. Sitting around a table with people who aren’t your normal dinner companions. Considering and in some cases practicing foot washing. Choosing to walk the slow speed of love in an on-demand world. These practices are the on ramps to Kairos time.
If you want to know God better, don’t start in your head or write something on your to-do
list. Instead, sit next to someone you ordinarily might not. Serve someone in a way that you ordinarily would not. Let someone serve you in a way might feel awkward. If you want to escape the drumbeat of anxiety in your life, you have to get very still, kneeling or sitting on the grass is best, and anxiety will pass over you. It always does. It may return again, but the good news is that feet to wash and tables to share will always be nearby.
Pastor Walton and I have worked on some big projects together since our feet boarded
that bus five years ago this May. We have stood together in the sunshine of worship. And we have stood together in the shadow of the deaths of George Floyd and Timothy Johnson when hope unborn had died. We have even stood on the side of the road when our bus broke down and it felt like prospects for justice had too. But with a steady beat our weary feet moved at the speed of honesty and at the speed of trust. Our Lord never owned a watch and never held a clipboard but he always knew time was on his side and when we gather like this, it is holy ground, shoes off, Kairos.
Chonos time might be measured in minutes, hours, years. But, if you’ll allow me to be
cheeky for a minute, it seems like Kairos time is measured in feet. Feet slowing down enough to follow Jesus, slowing down to notice the beauty of bread or cup or robin’s egg or your loved one’s big toe or an old prayer finally answered.
As Isaiah said,
Beautiful are the feet that bring the good news.
Beautiful the feet that stand together when it is so easy to run away
Beautiful feet that march for justice and dance the church toward wholeness and make
strides toward the kind of communion Christ intended for all of us
Beautiful the feet of Christ who made a way for us when there seemed to be no way
Beautiful the feet that move at the speed of love.