We Remember Who We Are

Maundy Thursday

This night our Lenten journey ends and our Easter journey is not yet upon us.  Our bishop says that Lent ends at sundown on Maundy Thursday but it will take us three full days “to begin to remember, to begin to unforget” who we are.[1] 
Jesus gathered with his disciples and with others at many times throughout his life. Our Scriptures are filled with such stories - meals where he is the host and meals where he is the guest.  And the story we read in John’s gospel tonight is just one of those many stories.  The bread and wine that we will share tonight is no different from the bread and the wine which we share every Sunday when we gather.  This is just one of many such occasions. 
How many times have you shared a meal with friends or family members?  It’s an impossible question because, really, who counts those things.  But there will always be certain times you remember more than others.  That time that there was a blizzard that resulted in your aunt and uncle and cousins who were driving in from northern Minnesota being so late that they missed dinner – but still in time to go sledding the next day when the sun came up.  That time at music camp when someone told a really funny story when you had just put a spoonful of cream of broccoli soup in your mouth.  That time when your brother sat down at the table and everyone saw for the first time his pierced ear and Dad went through the roof.  Those are just a few of my memorable meals.  But we all have meals like that. 
On this night Jesus was gathering once again with his friends to share a meal. But this meal we remember.  And as we remember this meal we remember who we are.  The passage from John tells us that at some point during the meal, Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself” and prepares to wash his disciples feet.[2]  But he has barely begun this object lesson when Simon Peter interrupts him to ask, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”[3] Jesus is gentle and responds to Peter telling him, this may not make sense to you know, but one day it will.[4]  Not satisfied with this answer, Peter says, “You will never wash my feet.”[5]  Jesus urges him to allow it, even suggesting that their relationship will be severed if Peter does not accept.[6]  Seemingly convinced, not only does Peter acquiesce to the foot washing but insists on having his hands and his head washed as well.[7]
A blogger named Laura Darling wrote about this very exchange in a post she called “what to do when someone totally wrecks your lesson plan.”  And, I think she got it just right. She writes:
“So there you are. You have this great lesson planned. It’s interactive. It’s experiential. It conveys a significant point in a memorable way. Everything seems to be going along smoothly, when suddenly, one of the class members goes off script, balks at the very action that you’re doing, and attempts to hijack the whole situation, taking it in a completely different direction. What do you do?”[8]
Teachers, parents, grandparents. . . perhaps this is a familiar scenario to you.  What do you do?  Well, if you are Jesus, you respond with compassion.  Taking each question and each protest as they come and continuing with the lesson as planned.  I think of all the times in John’s gospel when we read the words, “come and see.”[9]  Isn’t that close to Jesus’ first response to Peter: “you do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”[10]  Just journey with me. Don’t try to make sense of it now. Don’t try to explain it. Just come and see.  Just experience it.  For those of us who have been at this for several years – decades in some cases – it feels as though there are always more questions.  And yet, the answer is the same.  Just come and see.  Just experience.  Take it in with all your senses – the sound of water being poured into a basin of water, the touch of a neighbor in the passing of the peace, the taste and the smell of the bread and the wine, the sight of Jesus in one another’s faces.  Come and see.
Our bishop says that Lent ends at sundown on Maundy Thursday but it will take us three full days “to begin to remember, to begin to unforget” who we are.  I think Bishop Jeff Lee is on to something. But, I think he’s got the timeline wrong.  I think we gather for these three days every year because we may never fully understand who we are.  The bread and the wine are the same.  The washing of one another’s feet is the same.  The stripping of the altar, the departing in darkness and silence. It is all the same.  But you and I are always different, we are always becoming and we need always to be reminded.  So just come and see.  Just experience.  And in so doing, we will begin to remember again who we are. 

[1] Jeffrey D. Lee, “Remembering Who We Are,” Preparing for the Paschal Feast A Morning of Reflection, Eucharist & Blessing of Chrism for All, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, April 11, 2017.

[2] John 13:4.
[3] John 13:6b.
[4] John 13:7.
[5] John 13:8a.
[6] John 13:8b.
[7] John 13:9.
[8] Laura Darling, “Maundy Thursday – or- what do when someone totally wrecks your lesson plan,” Confirm not Conform, April 17, 2014, accessed online April 13, 2017.
[9] Cf. John 1:39, 1:46, 4:29, 11:34.
[10] John 13:7.