Peace which the world cannot give, I give to you

I give you a new commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this the world shall know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.

Yeah, brace yourself. It's church talk.

Tonight was the beginning of the three-night observance leading up to Easter. Not everyone knows (or chooses to know) that Easter is not a day, it is a season. There are three nights of preparation leading up to Easter Sunday, and then forty days of celebration thereafter. Hey, that's a lot of chocolate.

Tonight was my favorite service of the entire year: Maundy Thursday. And for the first time in many years, I missed it. Alas, work. I tried to wiggle out of it, tried to switch places with my fellow reporters, but that isn't always possible. I missed the foot-washing for the first time, I think, since I was in college.

Maundy Thursday is the service that remembers the Last Supper. Everyone knows how the night ended, with betrayal and terror and people running into the night in fear for their lives. But what I think about is its beginning: a group of people gathering to honor their faith, and their leader startling them by washing their feet.

I leave it to the true Biblical scholars to go into the details of why this was absolutely staggering in the cultural mores of the time, as shocking as when a woman used precious perfume and her hair to wash Jesus' feet. I think one of the true reflections of faith is not necessarily what an action or a story meant to people at the time or even what it meant through the centuries, but the lesson we take from it today.

For me, the story and the way my church chooses to symbolize it is the central tenet of my own faith: servants to one another. In the Maundy Thursday service, people may choose to have their feet washed by the priest before the altar. This is done in a ritualistic manner, with bare feet and a basin placed in the center of the church.

Some people don't like it. They don't always choose to participate. And that's one of the great things about being Episcopalian; that's okay. Do or do not, as thou wilt. But I've always wondered if the people who recoil at placing their feet in the basin would have recoiled from Jesus' offering as well.  Sure, it is awkward and weird; it's not what one naturally does. But then there are so many things in faith that ask us to set aside How It's Always Done and do something different.

Being a lifelong Episcopalian means I've seen the foot-washing performed in many different ways. What's the old joke - ask five Episcopalians for their theological opinion and you'll get six different answers. At my church for the last thirteen years, the priest and her assistant wash everyone's feet, while the choir chants in the background.

At another church I attended in the past, each of us washes the next person's feet. This is logistically more difficult, but I like it better: servants to one another. As the person in front of me washes my feet, so I will wash the feet of the person after me.

At yet another church I attended, the entire service was removed from the church into the parish hall. It was an extremely small church, and the service was remarkably similar to a Passover feast. We sat at a table instead of in pews, ate small symbolic pieces of food at particular points in the service, and washed each others' feet when the time came.

This would not work in a church larger than that one, which had at most 25 to 30 communicants at a non-Sunday service. But I found it among the most moving and spiritual experiences of my life as a woman of faith. I felt closer to my fellow parishioners, and indeed, closer to our heritage and the experience of those people in the upper room. We tend to forget that they were gathered together for the Passover on the night that Jesus bent over their feet.

To me, the most direct and beautiful expression of our faith is not in words but in actions. When we choose to treat one another with love and respect, we are offering witness to the world. It's easy to sit in judgment and lecture someone about what they should believe in terms of Scripture and doctrine. It's not so easy to offer kindness in return for anger, to turn aside our own darker impulses in favor of forgiveness.

We are all beholden to one another. It was the final lesson our teacher attempted to give, and the one at which we have failed most miserably. 

I feel the lack of this ritual most keenly this year, as though the Easter celebration will be missing part of its preamble. I know more than most how people can come together and help each other when they choose. I have experienced the love of my friends, family and community far more than was my share. I strive to give back what I have received, to pay it forward in whatever way I can, but I know that my balance will always be in the red.

Peace which the world cannot give, I give to you. Or so the Book says, at the beginning of this Easter season. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Allow me to wash your feet, and wash the feet of the one who comes after you. What I do for you, you do for another. And thus the five thousand are fed.

Comments

  1. But the beauty of it is we will all always be in the red. We have been given far more than we deserve when Jesus made that sacrifice on Good Friday. That's why I give freely of what I have to help friends and strangers alike.

    Wonderful, as always.

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  2. I see that you wrote "Do or do not, as thou wilt". Very similar to "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" or "An it harm none do what ye will". The first of course written by Aleister Crowley the second a variation of the wiccan rede.

    Having a pagan wife she is always amused at Easter time and Christians trying to explain the origin of Easter and what it has to do with colored eggs and bunnies.

    Easter the name Easter comes to us from Ostera or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, for whom a spring festival was held annually, as it is from this pagan festival.

    In Babylonia the goddess of spring was called Ishtar. She was identified with the planet Venus, which, In Phoenecia, she became Astarte; in Greece, Eostre and in Germany, Ostara.

    The goddess Easter was one goddess with many names the goddess of fertility, worshipped in spring when all life was being renewed.

    As far as eggs and bunnies. The egg is a symbol of spring and of new life and resurrection and as bar as bunnies another symbol of fertility has been taken up by Christians as the Easter rabbit.

    Happy Easter

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