The first night of the Triduum--the three Holy Days of the church year that make up one liturgy -- beginning tonight and ending with the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
There will be no dismissal from tonight’s liturgy--we are not sent out to love and serve the Lord--
not yet--instead we move together, as one body in Christ, the world over
from a last supper with friends to a table stripped bare of its bread and wine, its candles and linens--
from the intimacy of Jesus bending down to wash the feet of his beloveds, and asking them (and us) to do the same, to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus suffers in agony, alone--forsaken.
We won’t be sent out into the world rejoicing in the spirit--not tonight and not tomorrow--
we’ll carry on from the garden to the cross to the tomb--
and then we wait--
We wait on Holy Saturday as if we do not know the end of the story--because maybe we don’t--
perhaps in the wake of Good Friday’s sorrow--fear will whisper in our ear: death is the end--
despair might chime in: violence is the only way to win
anger joins the chorus as we watch the unfolding trial of another public crucifixion at the hands of a police state: say his name, George Floyd.
And so, in our sorrow and our unknowing and anger we’ll gather Saturday night to be together and remember that we are not alone
we will light a fire in the dark and tell the stories of our ancestors--
and as we re-tell the stories, we will begin to remember God’s faithfulness to God’s people--
and in our remembering we remember to wait in hope--not certainty--but hope
that God might keep God’s promise again and deliver us from evil.
This is the arc of Holy Week.
And we have arrived tonight for the beginning of these holiest of days--
when Jesus does the seemingly simple act of kneeling with a towel wrapped around his waist to wash the feet of those who love him and who he loves in return--
this night speaks to me deeply, almost too deeply for words. I don’t want to intellectualize what this night means for 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.
The reason it is hard to put to words what tonight’s foot washing 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.
Symbols reveal truth--but not a fixed, final, single truth. They reveal truth rooted in unique lived experience--yours and mine--
symbols speak to our inner authority--
symbols speak past the noise of external, imposed authority--and all the ways that external
authority dismisses criticizes and invalidates the truth of our lived experience in this world.
Symbols do not appeal to our intellect--honestly, what sensible reason is there for us to wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday?
Symbols speak to lived experience--yours and mine--
symbols reach deep into our souls and tell “the truth when words are not enough--
inviting us “to enter into spiritual and mystical truth and reality.”
How, I wonder, does tonight’s symbol of foot washing resonate with the life you’ve lived, the life you are living, the life you desire--the person you know God created you to be--
what spiritual truth does the foot washing reveal to you?
It is something only to be experience, not defended or rationalized--
tonight belongs to everyone and anyone.
No one is excluded--
allow another to wash your feet tonight and kneel down in humility to wash another’s feet, too.
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.
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 the
I don’t want to say anymore. Lest my words get in the way of your holy experience of this sacred evening and very holy week.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
St. Augustine’s Parish, Tempe
April 1, 2021
 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 writings