John 13. 1-17, 31b-35
God changes the world, through the things we most take for granted!
It’s been a difficult three-and-a-half weeks. Not as difficult as it’s been in other places, true. But difficult, nonetheless. The separation. The long lines. The empty shelves. Just the uncertainty, the unknowing, of it all. And it’s been just as difficult trying to figure out how to be a pastor, at times like this. I’ve taken off a week or two, in the past. When I got back, I just picked up where I left off. But this isn’t anything like that. This time, it’s more fundamental. It’s more basic. It goes to the heart of what it means to be called and ordained. And this time, it goes to the heart of what it means to be church. These days challenge us. This time dares us.
Here we are, smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. But instead of sitting together, we’re scattered across the city. We’re scattered across the Basin. And we know, no matter what we do, no matter how we do it, this night – this week – won’t be anything like what we’ve ever done. We’re being forced to reconsider. Pushed to reimagine. We’re being reshaped, reformed, whether or not we want to be. Maundy Thursday … apart. Maundy Thursday … alone. Yes, it’s been a difficult three-and-a-half weeks. And it doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.
But here we are. On a Thursday night unlike any other. On a Thursday night just like every other. Everything about this night is ordinary, normal. Just look around you. You’ve seen it all before! The chair you’re sitting in! The walls! The ceiling! The floor! The pictures on the wall are, probably, so familiar, you don’t, even, know they’re there! Here we are, gathered – virtually speaking – on one of the highest and holiest nights of the entire year! And we’re trapped! We’re wrapped up! By the routine and the everyday! By the commonplace! Our whole world is unexceptional, run-of-the-mill! We expect to be stirred up! We want to be inspired! On a night like this, we should be! We should be lifted up and swept away! Taken to places we can only imagine! Yet, here we are, right where we’ve always been. Surrounded by our forever life. Surrounded by mementos. By souvenirs. By what once was. By what is now. By the same old same old.
But as I was anticipating this moment. As I was looking ahead, I realized something. Something I’d never noticed. Not about all this. But about this night. About this story. It, too, is ordinary! It’s mundane, as well! Run of the mill! Unremarkable! It’s like watching paint dry! Watching grass grow! Maybe that’s the reason people don’t come to Holy Week services. Nothing spectacular happens! Nothing impressive! It’s nothing like Christmas Eve! Easter morning! No manger! No star! No angels! No shepherds! No kings! There’s nothing that sparkles! Nothing that shines! Nothing to sing about! This night is white bread! Vanilla ice cream! Nothing to catch our attention! Nothing to pique our interest! There are no mountains to climb! No seas to walk through! Thousands aren’t fed with a handful of leftovers!
This night … This night is unimpressive … ordinary … Stop and think about it, for a moment … It’s not much different from anything else, this night! Sheltering in place! Stay at home! Socially distanced! It’s not much different from what we hear about, this night. A meal. At home. In an upper room. A basin. A towel. A loaf of bread. A cup of wine. Afterward, some prayers. Apart. In a garden. It’s all pretty simple. Down to earth. Close to home. Familiar things. Routine things. Things we tend to overlook. Things we tend to ignore. But, you know, that’s how god does things! God doesn’t work through the supernatural and the otherworldly. God doesn’t appear in whirlwinds or earthquakes or infernos! God doesn’t work through droughts and famines and plagues! God’s more … more modest, more unassuming than all that! God speaks, god appears, in the sounds of sheer silence! God takes on flesh and blood! God takes on the uninteresting and the boring! Earth! Ashes! Dust! And then, god changes the world! From the inside out! From the bottom to the top!
Sure, god could say the magic words. God could wave a hand. In the blink of an eye, god could change it all. But that isn’t god! That isn’t love! Love looks more like a teacher, kneeling down in front of his students, washing their feet … Love looks like a god nailed to a tree … Like grains of wheat ground into flour … Like grapes crushed into wine … It’s in the earthly things, in the human things, that love is revealed! In the blood! In the sweat! In the tears! Sure, god could make it all go away, just like that! But we’d never see what god looked like! Even more, we’d never see what it looks like to be truly human! Staying put! Wearing masks! Not to save ourselves, but for the sake of those around us! That’s what we commemorate, celebrate, this holy night! It’s the sacrifice! The suffering! Not the holy. Or the high. This night – like our god – is the love! The charity! The grace! That can’t be revealed in heaven. But only here! Within creation! On earth!
A friend asked me, this morning, why I hadn’t done more livestreaming from the fellowship hall. Why out here? In the world? With all the wind? And noise? Why from a kitchen table? The top of a parking garage? City parks? The Nature Center? The airport? Well, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say, at the time. How to say it. But I know now. We know how to be church in the places people expect the church to be! We know how to be church in the uncommon, in the remarkable! We know how to be church in the set-apart-places! Like fellowship halls! With an altar and an organ and colored windows and lots of chairs! But we never learned how to be church in places like this. Places where we live and move and have our being. Secular. Worldly. Mundane. But truth is, my friends, this is where god comes to us. This is where we learn to believe. Most of all, this … this is where live what we believe! This is where we love! Love. Just! Like! Jesus!