Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle on Maundy Thursday, 2012
How do we belong?
I think that’s one of life’s Big Questions, especially in times of upheaval, when it seems that structures we counted on seem to be frail or even to be failing. We don’t usually ask it in quite that way, however.
It’s kind of like when we ask “What’s the meaning of life?” we may really mean something else; something more like, “What’s the meaning of my life? How can I live so that my existence will have significance beyond myself and after I’m gone?”
How do we belong? This basic question encompasses a number of other questions, but is bigger than them. Questions like,
Who are we?
Where do we belong?
With whom and to whom do we belong?
Who is my neighbor?
How do we serve?
I think it is this basic question that Jesus is trying to address in his last evening with his disciples. We are listening in on Jesus’ final sermon, so to speak. It’s the last time he talks to them before he’s arrested. He’s highlighting all that he has tried to teach them and giving them something to hang onto after he’s gone.
It’s been an intense, often confusing three years or so. The disciples have left homes, families, and livelihoods to follow Jesus. Their world has been rocked. But that’s nothing compared to what’s about to happen. What will become of them when they no longer have Jesus’ physical presence to anchor them?
How will they belong? Everything they ever belonged to has been left behind.
And so he ate with them and talked to them and prayed for them – four chapters worth, in fact, in John’s gospel. But he also gave them physical, tangible signs to remind them after he was gone.
Every time they ate bread and drank wine, the stuff of everyday meals, they were to remember him, the community and fellowship they had formed together, and what he had taught them. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, every time they break the bread and drink the cup they proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection until his coming again.
Every time they, or a servant, washed their feet, another everyday experience, you can be sure they would remember the time Jesus washed their feet. They would remember what he told them – that they were to do the same. They would remember that he told them to love one another, to love their neighbor, to love their enemies.
These tangible signs would anchor them in the time to come when it might seem that their whole world has turned upside down. They would help them remember How they belong.
When I first came to Christ Church, I remember seeing the slogan, “Serving the U District since 1903” in a lot of places. And I thought it was so cool! While it was rooted in history, it conveyed an understanding of current, ongoing action; a sense of identity. It was a statement of How Christ Church belonged.
As we move into this time of transition, we, too, may feel that our world is rocked. We will ask questions about ourselves as a community. Questions like
Who are we? Where do we belong?
With whom and to whom do we belong?
Who is our neighbor? How do we serve?
In other words, How do we belong?
The search may even become a quest.
We may need some tangible signs to anchor us.
In Steve’s last sermon, he took off his shoes and talked about Holy Ground. He said that the ground we stand on, here at Christ Church is Holy Ground. But he went on to say that when he leaves, the space in between us is and always will be Holy Ground. This is important for us to remember that when we leave the building tonight, or on Sunday morning and go about our lives, we are still Christ Church and the ground we stand on and all the ground in between is Holy Ground.
When members move away, the ground between us and them is Holy Ground. From Marysville to Issaquah to Fort Lewis; From Athens Georgia to Hilo Hawaii, from Texas to Boston to St. Mary’s Convent in England, we are on Holy Ground. So, tonight, when you take off your shoes, and every time you put them on or take them off, I want you to remember that you are Christ Church and you are standing on Holy Ground.
On a certain level, this whole service is a sermon. There is a lot of activity involved. But we aren’t pretending to be Jesus’ disciples; we aren’t re-enacting the last evening they spent with Jesus. Rather, we are already disciples, we’re experiencing and practicing what Jesus taught.
I wonder if, for us, the bread and wine of communion have become removed from our experience of daily meals with our families or our community that our daily bread, so to speak, is no longer a proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. For that matter, have communal meals been removed from our daily experience?
For us, apart from showering, washing feet is not a daily experience and this ritual we do tonight may seem uncomfortable and foreign. But tonight. Tonight, we have the opportunity to reclaim the signs Jesus gave us. Tonight we have the opportunity to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection as we eat a real meal together. We have the opportunity to wash one another’s feet. We have the opportunity to experience How we belong.