Homily given at Maundy Thursday Service, April 17, 2014
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Piney Parish, Waldorf, MD
I ran across this story the other day and wanted to share it with you. It goes like this…
I sat in the church pew, trying my hardest to focus as the Sunday service began. But while worship music filled the room, I couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful head of wavy reddish hair seated just a few seats down in the row in front of me.
Could it be her?
I leaned a bit to catch a glimpse of her profile – making my husband question my obvious distraction – and the content sparkle in her eye gave her away.
All these years later, her body had significantly aged. Her hands, as if they could tell a story all of their own, were wrinkled and worn. But her posture and resolve still seemed as determined as ever, and the way she worshipped moved me to tears.
I could hardly wait to make my way down to her, but how?
She had known me best when I was a little girl, in a little town in that little church, and at a time when my family was more than a little in need. Would she even recognize me all these years later?
I whispered an audible “Thanks, God.” as the worship leader invited the congregation to take a moment to greet one another. Jesus must have known I wouldn’t have been able to wait until the end of the service. Before the worship leader could even finish speaking, I was side-stepping my way up and over Bibles and shoes and purses and people, shuffling as fast as I could down to where she was.
Laying my hand gently on her shoulder, I leaned up into her row and whispered her name.
“I’m not sure if you remember me…” I began, then introduced myself by my maiden name, followed by whose daughter I was.
Without missing a beat, she stood straight up, wrapped her frail hands around mine, and leaned in closely. Unlike her body, her voice was strong…
“I know who you are. I have always loved you.”
Oh, and love she did.
Thirty-three years prior, she had made a decision to love a single mom with four children, ages eight and under. My parents had just divorced, and though they worked hard to provide for us, times were hard. She and her husband faithfully attended that little church in that little town, where we too found refuge every week.
Her ways were subtle, but generous.
“The beans in the garden are ready for picking, if you’d like to come by for some this week.”
“I heard you’re needing a new washing machine. Why don’t you go pick one out, and I’ll take care of the bill.”
There were meaningful moments of prayer and encouragement together, envelopes with money slipped into my mom’s Bible without a word, women’s retreats and church camps mysteriously paid for, and bags of groceries that found their way into the back seat of our car after church.
She didn’t judge. She didn’t take sides. She didn’t talk about choices or statistics or social classes or consequences. She didn’t pass by the need, leaving it for another to meet. She simply and humbly loved like Jesus. She gave what she had, and expected nothing in return.
For years this went on, and there was a little girl who took all of this in and tucked it deep down into her heart. Through the generosity of one, that little girl learned that Jesus was with her family. That Jesus knew what they needed. That Jesus was always on time.
And the girl knew that even if you’re poor in the world’s eyes, you can be rich in Jesus. And the little girl’s love for Jesus grew.
That little girl was me.
It’s just like God to remind me of His goodness by crossing my path with this precious saint in that service just a few weeks ago. Little did my old friend know when she walked through those church doors that Sunday morning that a little girl, from a little church in a little town, would grow up and many, many years later, would kiss her cheek and whisper into her ear…
“Your love helped introduce me to the love of Jesus.”
One person. One life of purpose. One choice to love. And today, Jesus continues to whisper to me…
“I know who you are. I have always loved you.”
Back then, our family was unable to repay her generosity. But because of Jesus, today, I can love others in return, one life at a time.
It was in the Upper Room that night so many years ago. You know me well enough to know that I like to immerse myself into these scenes. I try to imagine what it was like to be there.
Jesus is gathered with the disciples. The mood, I imagine is quiet and very somber. In my vision of that night, the disciples are very likely wondering what’s going on. Perhaps they are even whispering to each other. The room is electric with tension.
These men, brothers in a sense, were gathered in that room and in the middle of it; Jesus rises, takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself.
Think about it….he takes off his robe and ties a towel around himself. Can you put yourself in the disciples place and especially in their minds? Can you imagine their thoughts?
And, if that is not enough, he begins to wash their feet!
If you looked at this practice for what it is, you would find that this was a customary practice. Feet with only sandals on travelling on dirt roads would get very dirty. When folks gathered in community for a meal like this, there would be servants to wash the feet of the guests.
But, not this night my friends. No, this night, Jesus took up this chore.
Our gospel reading describes a conversation that took place between Peter and Jesus and that conversation is significant. But tonight, I want to think about and focus on the rest of the disciples. You see, John does not mention them in his narrative. And, Jesus washed their feet too.
I do not know what he might have said. I can only imagine. But, what if…
What if, as he tenderly washed their feet, he looked up at them…
He looked at them, and with tremendous emotion and feeling in his eyes, he said, “I know who you are. I have always loved you,” just like the lady in our story.
And tonight, as we remember this most special time of Jesus’ life and what occurred in those days and the sacrifice he made for us…
Jesus gives us the same message… “I know who you are. I have always loved you.” Amen