Holy Thursday has long been the most meaningful liturgy of the church year for me.
The first Christmas gift Matt gave me was a bronze icon of the washing of the feet. If you’ve been in our home you may have noticed the icon hanging quietly in our kitchen.
Matt and I met at Andre House in Phoenix, a house of hospitality and service for the poor and homeless.
The work and heart and soul of Andre House is derived from the mandate we hear in today’s Gospel to love one another and to serve one another. For me and for Matt, answering the call to love and serve at Andre House, led us to one another.
At our wedding, we claimed the foot-washing narrative as the spiritual lodestar for our marriage.
This night, the night we remember Jesus washing the disciples feet and calling them to service and table fellowship inspired the thesis I wrote for my Master’s Degree in theology.
And then, once I became a mother, the ritual act of washing the feet of my children—little toes and little feet—took on deeper and different meaning when viewed through the call we hear tonight to humble ourselves, to serve and to love one another.
And as meaningful as this text is for me, I find it an exceedingly difficult text to preach.
It’s as if the words don’t exist for me to articulate how this texts speaks to me—and I don’t dare presume how it speaks to you.
The words that come close to explaining how I relate to this text—words like empowered, included, called, belonging—are somehow insufficient.
And the reason it is so hard to put to words what this ritual and story means to me—and why I cannot possibly begin to know what it means to you—is because the foot-washing story in John is a symbol. It is a symbol of Christ’s salvation as told by the Gospel of John.
And as a symbol, the text cannot be limited to an event that has just one single and unequivocal meaning.It is constantly changing and evolving depending on the reader and her experience.
Listen to how Sandra Schneiders, a Johannine scholar and a former professor of mine, explains how symbols work in John’s Gospel:
“Symbols initiate us into an experience that is open-ended. Symbols cannot be explained because they do not appeal to our intellect but a locus of experience.”
A locus of experience.
This symbol, the foot washing, appeals to a touchstone of our lived experiences.
And, I wonder: what emerges for you when you hear the story of the foot-washing? What about when you participate in or observe the foot-washing ritual? How does this ritual and story appeal to your experiences?
“Symbols, Schneiders writes, “tell the truth when words are not enough, reveal the transcendent, and allow us to enter into spiritual and mystical truth and reality.”
What spiritual truth does the foot washing reveal to you? And, how will it transform you?
As we continue to move through Holy Week—may we allow the symbolic nature of our liturgies to take us out of our head—and into our hearts. We are on a soul journey, friends.
Our liturgies—especially during Holy Week—invite us beyond reason. Beyond factual evidence of one thing or another. Beyond words and into mystery, wonder, and truth.
May we resist hard and fast intellectual explanations of what any of this means—and be open to a journey that is intended to be spiritual and mystical so that it might reveal to us salvation and truth.
I don’t want to say anymore. Lest my words get in the way of your holy experience of this sacred and mystical evening and very holy week.
Written That You May Believe, Sandra M. Schneiders, 188
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other reflections