The Last Time

 

"The Last Supper", Jesus Mafa

Scripture Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.

That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?

But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts, to feel the very real Presence of Christ forever. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.

Our culture probably doesn’t do well with “lasts”.  We seem to be always rushing to the next thing, not wanting to hurt or grieve or even hold on to what may be somewhat painful moments in our lives.  We rush to get “over it”, to move on.  As many of you know, I am dealing with my own set of “lasts” right now.  As I prepare to close my chapter at St. Paul’s and begin a new chapter at FUMC, Cleveland, Tx, the “lasts” seem to be coming in a flurry right now.  I am such that I tear up and sometimes even blatantly bawl at the emptiness and, yet, I really want to savor it, to feel every moment of it, to remember it, to make it a part of me, and to leave a part of myself.  That is what Jesus was trying to do.  I don’t think he was trying to “get them through it” and he was definitely not wanting to rush for it to be over.  He was wanting them to experience it, to savor it, indeed, to remember it.  Do this in remembrance of me.  The beauty of this last meal was the intimacy and the relationship.  These were friends dining together–friends who had loved and argued, celebrated and cried, friends who had been called together one by one.  They were all different, coming from different lifestyles with different gifts to offer.  They were us.  We are them.  And this was the moment that they would remember when everything had changed.

For on this night of nights, Jesus drew them in, not to take care of them, but to help them remember. They had to remember enough to hand the memory on.  The Greek word for it is anamnesis.  We would translate it as remembering.  But it is more.  It is not merely remembering those things that happened to us; it is remembering what came before and what was passed on, remembering what was part of our tradition and our heart.  It is finding a memory of what came before that leads you on your journey beyond.  We often tout “institutional memory” as if it is a way of remembering what happened to whom and where and when.  But it is more.  It is a way of imparting what is important, what matters, what gives life to those that come next.  It is a way of giving it wings to fly and breath to survive.  That is why this night was so important.  Jesus did not choose to shut himself off and grieve what was coming but instead immersed himself in a circle of friends so that he could live through them.  Experiencing a “last time” alone is painful; experiencing a “last time” with a gift of friends and a meal will remain forever.

This is the night we remember, the night that Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, the night that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of the disciples, the night that Jesus forgave betrayal and welcomed life.  A few hours later the soldiers would come and the end would begin.  But the memory of that last time will last forever.  Do this in remembrance of me.

The glad hosannas are no longer heard.  The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts.  And what do we hear?  An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love.  God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant.  (Moira B. Laidlaw)

On this night of nights, we remember.  But we also experience our own “lasts”.  What memories have been imparted to you?  What do you remember that makes you?  What can you impart to those that come after you?  Embrace your lasts, hold them, love them, and then pass them along.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Realized Who We Were

 

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, 1819

Scripture Passage:  John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

So do you remember that day at the wedding?  The wedding was grand and glorious.  The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. It was in the dark of night with a spectacular torchlight procession.  Then there were speeches and expressions of goodwill before the couple made their way to the groom’s house for the banquet.  And then the unthinkable happened.  The wine ran out.  Wow, that was actually pretty embarrassing. (And there are commentators that have noted that litigation was even possible in a case like this!  How odd!  Not to mention REALLY embarrassing!)  Most of the guests didn’t seem to know what was happening, but Jesus’ mother was in a panic.  And so she looks to her son.  “Jesus, fix this!”  And, miracle of miracles, he did.

This has always been an odd story for me. I mean, really, wine? Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor? Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain? Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Now THAT would have been a miracle. But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast. Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more, maybe even enjoy basking in the very Presence of God. Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life. And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself. It begins as ordinary grapes. Well, not really. If you go even farther back, you start with water. Are you beginning to see that, really, everything starts with water? And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed. And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary. And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait. They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait. We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.  And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist. Think about it. We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our United Methodist case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle, those ordinary things become holy. They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine. Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift. Water and a miracle…Wine is water–plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water. No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself. Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation. No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine. Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.  And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different. God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us. We, too, are water plus a miracle. 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.” It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle, beloved children of God.

Jerusalem is just within our reach.  Our journey holds it in sight.  And so to prepare for what is to come, we remember who we are.  We remember that time that seems like only yesterday and also a lifetime away when Jesus showed us who we were.  And thinking back to this day, thinking back to that first miracle, we realize that it’s not about wine; it’s about us.  This was Jesus’ lesson in who we are.  It’s a reminder that WE are the miracle–created matter, water-born and Spirit-breathed.  We ARE the good wine, saved just for now.  We are water plus a miracle.

There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

There are only days left in our Lenten journey, days left to gather ourselves for the Cross.  Who are you?  Who were you created to be? What would it mean to live your life as though you were a miracle, as though all that God created is a miracle?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Started to Become

WaterScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Looking back from our journey, we remember, we remember the day that we started to become.  At this point, we remember that day in the Jordan, all of Creation dripping from the sacred waters. And, yet, that whole idea of Jesus being baptized is sometimes odd for us.  After all, part of what we associate with baptism is forgiveness.  How can one who is supposed to be sinless be forgiven?  But the fact that Jesus was baptized only suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather God’s people and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance, an entrusting of oneself wholly and completely to God. It also reminds us that Baptism is not about us. We cannot baptize ourselves. It is about God’s presence in our life.

I think the Baptism account from the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite.  Only in this version do we hear of the “heavens being torn apart”—not opened for a time as in Matthew and Luke—but torn apart. The Greek word for this means “schism” (which, interestingly enough, is similar to chaos, similar to what God’s Creation ordered.). It’s not the same as the word open. You open a door; you close a door; the door still looks the same. But torn—the ragged edges never go back in quite the same way again. At this point of Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit becomes present on earth in a new way. A brand new ordering of Creation has begun. The heavens have torn apart. They cannot go back. Nothing will ever be the same. Everything that we have known, everything that we have thought has been torn apart and that is the place where God comes through. And the heavens can never again close as tightly as before.  This is when we started to become.

This story of Jesus’ Baptism calls us to remember our own. It is more than being showered or sprinkled with remnants of God’s forgiveness.  It is our beginning, our very “becoming”, as the gift of God’s grace washes away those things that impede our relationship with God and gives us new birth, new life. Just as God swept over the waters when Creation came to be, God swept across the waters so that we would become.  And it calls us to do something with our life.  But I actually don’t remember the day of my baptism. It happened when I was a little over seven months old, on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1962. It was at First United Methodist Church, Brookshire, TX and Rev. Bert Condrey was the officiant. I had a special dress and lots of family present. That would be all I really know.  And yet we are reminded to “remember our baptism”. What does that mean for those of us who don’t? I think “remembering” is something bigger than a chronological recount of our own memories. It is bigger than remembering what we wore or where we stood or who the actual person was that touched our head with or even immersed us in water. It means remembering our very identity, our creation, what it is that made us, that collective memory that is part of our tradition, our liturgy, our family.  It means remembering not just how the journey began but that in its very beginning we became part of it.  And now this same journey takes us to the cross.

That is what “remembering” our baptism is. It’s not just remembering the moment that we felt that baptismal stream; it is remembering the story into which we entered. It is at that point that the Christian family became our own as we began to become who God intends us to be. And for each of us, whether or not we noticed it, the heavens tore apart, spilled out, and the Holy Spirit emerged. And we, too, were conferred with a title. “This is my child, my daughter or son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  You are part of something beyond yourself, beyond what you know, and beyond what you can remember. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that “the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Your past now reaches far back before you were here and your future is being transformed and redeemed in you even as we speak.

After he was baptized, Jesus stood, dripping wet, to enter his ministry. The heavens tore apart and poured into the earth. All of humanity was there in that moment—those gone, those to come, you, me. So we remember now how we still stand, wet with those same waters, as we, too, are called into ministry in the name of Christ. It is up to us to further the story. This day and every day, remember your baptism, remember that you are a daughter or son of God with whom God is well pleased and be thankful. You are now part of the story, part of this ordering of chaos, part of light emerging from darkness, part of life born from death. You are part of God’s re-creation. And it is very, very good.  This is the journey for which we live; this is the journey for which we were created; this is the journey that gives us Life.  And, in this moment, we remember when we started to Become.

Your life is shaped by the end you live for.  You are made in the image of what you desire. (Thomas Merton)

On this Lenten journey, we continue to gather our past into our Lives and we remember what made us, remember when we became who we are, when we began this journey.  What does it mean to you to “Remember your Baptism”?  What does it mean to wade into the waters where God awaits?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Wilderness is Where We Found Who We Are

Diving into watersScripture Text:  Mark 1: 4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of  sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

So Jesus was born in the wilderness.  So Jesus, even as a small child, was whisked off into the wilderness to surely save his life.  And now, Jesus goes into the wilderness and is baptized by John.  You see, Jesus wasn’t baptized at the beautiful marble or wood font that is in the front of your sanctuary.  Jesus wasn’t baptized surrounded by the comforts of air conditioning and pew cushions.  When Jesus knelt, there was no altar cushion beneath his knees.  There was no celebratory lunch after his baptism.  Jesus went into the wilderness and made his way into the cold water of the Jordan, feeling it first with his foot and then slowly, ever so slowly, making his way to the place where John stood.  And as he walked into the water, his clothes and his body were consumed by the waters and the chill overwhelmed him.  And then John, clothed in stinky wet camel’s hair with a sagging leather belt around his waist, gingerly took Jesus and pushed him beneath the swirling waters of the river.  “In the Name of God, I baptize you.”  And as Jesus rose out of the water, gasping for breath, he looked up and the heavens were torn apart, torn apart never to be put back in quite the same way again, never capable of going back to the way they were.  And from this gaping opening in the heavens, the Spirit seemed to descend like a dove.  And they all heard it.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In that moment, there in the wilderness, Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness with the wild animals and the blowing sands and the swirling waters of the river Jesus found who he was.  There in the wilderness where life is wild and unpredictable, where the path is not as worn as the one we frequent in the city, where the dwelling place is open to the sky and not walled in, where nothing can be controlled and nothing can be held, Jesus found who he was.  It seems to me that Jesus keeps returning to the wilderness, keeps returning to the place where we don’t expect him to be.  Perhaps our cue is that we are called to do the same.  Perhaps the wilderness is where we find who we are.

You see, in the comforts of our homes, in the security of our lives, in the places where we close our doors and lock them off to the world, we are told what we should be.  We are told that we should pursue success and affirmation, that we should climb the ladder with our accomplishments and our resume’.  We are made to believe that if we mingle with the right people and show up in the right places and post cute little pictures and statements on social media, we will get somewhere.  But in the wilderness, where the pathway is unpredictable and not well-trodden, where we experience some discomfort and disillusionment with who we are, where we experience crises of identity and crises of faith, where we feel like we don’t fit and we don’t belong, where we feel, sometimes, like we can’t even connect with God there, there, we find who we are.  We are pushed down into the waters of unknowing and we emerge with a new perspective.  We are immersed in something that we do not control and cannot stop and find new ways to be.  And the heavens open and the very Spirit of God spills onto us.  And we hear it.  We hear who we are, a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Maybe we’re beginning to see a pattern here.  Jesus’ life was not exactly charmed in the worldly sense of the word.  It seems, rather, that the wilderness kept cropping up, somehow pulling him into its grip.  I don’t think it was a test.  I think it was God’s way of pulling us toward freedom, God’s way of releasing us from the expectation of others, from the assumptions that the world hands us of who we are supposed to be, that there is a certain path and a certain way that our life has laid out for us.  Jesus’s life was mostly about walking in the wilderness, walking the way that was not the expected, that was not the norm, walking the way that opened himself to being immersed so that, finally, he could find who he was.

Perhaps that’s the point of our Lenten journey.  It is not just a denying ourselves of something; it is not just doing something different, walking a different walk for a short season.  This Lenten journey forces us into the wilderness, with cold water and murky pathways and hands us a mirror so that we take a good hard look at our lives and finally, finally find who we are:  A daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  And knowing who we are, everything has changed.

It is in the act of offerings our hearts in faith that something in us transforms…proclaiming that we no longer stand on the sidelines but are leaping directly into the center of our lives, our truth, our full potential. (Sharon Salzberg)

FOR TODAY:  Let yourself go into the wilderness.  Immerse yourself.  Find who you are—a daughter or son of God, God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Return to the Waters

man under waterfallScripture Text:  1 Peter 3: 18-22

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

In this season of returning, here the writer of this general letter known as First Peter dispenses with any talk of being “saved” as it relates to salvation.  Instead, the promise lies in our re-creation, our renewal, our resurrection (the “little r” one), our being made into a new Creation.  It is a reminder that in our baptism, in that moment when the waters covered our body, or covered our head, or when drops of the stuff clinging to another’s hand somehow, some way, landed on our head and brushed our forehead and became the sign of a cross, in THAT moment, we were made new.  It wasn’t just washing away of sin and it certainly wasn’t some sort of something that made us sin no more (although, let me tell you, that would have made this life thing a little easier!)  In that moment as the waters touched us, we were made new, suddenly swept into a new way of being, and our life in Christ began.

Now baptism is not some sort of magic potion that makes everything perfect.  After all, we are not robotic churchy beings.  We are human–messed up, sometimes sinful, sometimes without hope, sometimes without direction, sometimes overwhelmed, but always, always, Beloved children of God.  For those to whom this was written, the words were a reminder that whatever chaos and peril life now holds, it is not permanent, that beyond what we know, beyond what we can imagine, the God of all Creation is working on us even now, creating molecule after molecule, so that when the flood waters of life finally subside, we will remember who and whose we are, a Beloved Child of God with whom God is well pleased.  And no matter what we do, no matter how much we mess up this life that we’ve been given, no matter how much the world’s chaos swirls around us beyond our control, the promise is true.  God is always there beckoning us to return to the waters, to return to where we began and begin again.

This season of Lent is not a season that merely calls us to clean up the mire and muck of our lives.  It is not a season to finally become good and obedient boys and girls.  It is not a season that promises to get your life together (or organize yourself or lose weight or some other thing you think you need to do disguised as a Lenten discipline).  Lent is a season that calls us to return–to who we are called to be, to what gives us life, to God.  It is a season to return to the waters of your baptism, not just for 40 days, but forever.

Do you remember the old version of the Apostles’ Creed, where we proclaim that Jesus descended into hell?  Well, this is the passage from which that notion may have started.  It claims that Jesus proclaimed to those imprisoned spirits; in other words, Jesus entered hell and blew the gates off.  See, you can always begin again.  You can always return to the waters. You just have to be willing to try out some newness.

One cannot step twice in the same river, for fresh waters are forever flowing around us.  (Hereclitus of Ephesus, 535-475 BCE)

FOR TODAY:  Remember your baptism. Now begin again.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Last Time

 

"The Last Supper", Jesus Mafa
“The Last Supper”, Jesus Mafa

Scripture Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.

That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?

But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts, to feel the very real Presence of Christ forever. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.

Our culture probably doesn’t do well with “lasts”.  We seem to be always rushing to the next thing, not wanting to hurt or grieve or even hold on to what may be somewhat painful moments in our lives.  We rush to get “over it”, to move on.  As many of you know, I am dealing with my own set of “lasts” right now.  As I prepare to close my chapter at St. Paul’s and begin a new chapter at FUMC, Cleveland, Tx, the “lasts” seem to be coming in a flurry right now.  I am such that I tear up and sometimes even blatantly bawl at the emptiness and, yet, I really want to savor it, to feel every moment of it, to remember it, to make it a part of me, and to leave a part of myself.  That is what Jesus was trying to do.  I don’t think he was trying to “get them through it” and he was definitely not wanting to rush for it to be over.  He was wanting them to experience it, to savor it, indeed, to remember it.  Do this in remembrance of me.  The beauty of this last meal was the intimacy and the relationship.  These were friends dining together–friends who had loved and argued, celebrated and cried, friends who had been called together one by one.  They were all different, coming from different lifestyles with different gifts to offer.  They were us.  We are them.  And this was the moment that they would remember when everything had changed.

I have known that I have been moving for nearly six months, carrying it with me with just a few trusted friends.  The “lasts” that I experienced alone were absolute torture.  Christmas Eve was a “last” I would like to forget.  But this, these holy days…I want to embrace and understand them in a whole new way.  For on this night of nights, Jesus drew them in, not to take care of them, but to help them remember. They had to remember enough to hand the memory on.  The Greek word for it is anamnesis.  We would translate it as remembering.  But it is more.  It is not merely remembering those things that happened to us; it is remembering what came before and what was passed on, remembering what was part of our tradition and our heart.  It is finding a memory of what came before that leads you on your journey beyond.  We often tout “institutional memory” as if it is a way of remembering what happened to whom and where and when.  But it is more.  It is a way of imparting what is important, what matters, what gives life to those that come next.  That is why this night was so important.  Jesus did not choose to shut himself off and grieve what was coming but instead immersed himself in a circle of friends so that he could live through them.  Experiencing a “last time” alone is painful; experiencing a “last time” with a gift of friends and a meal will remain forever.

This is the night we remember, the night that Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, the night that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of the disciples, the night that Jesus forgave betrayal and welcomed life.  A few hours later the soldiers would come and the end would begin.  But the memory of that last time will last forever.  Do this in remembrance of me.

The glad hosannas are no longer heard.  The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts.  And what do we hear?  An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love.  God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant.  (Moira B. Laidlaw)

On this night of nights, we remember.  But we also experience our own “lasts”.  What memories have been imparted to you?  What do you remember that makes you?  What can you impart to those that come after you?  Embrace your lasts, hold them, love them, and then pass them along.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

 

When We Realized Who We Were

 

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, 1819
The Wedding Feast at Cana, Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, 1819

Scripture Passage:  John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

So do you remember that day at the wedding?  The wedding was grand and glorious.  The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. It was in the dark of night with a spectacular torchlight procession.  Then there were speeches and expressions of goodwill before the couple made their way to the groom’s house for the banquet.  And then the unthinkable happened.  The wine ran out.  Wow, that was actually pretty embarrassing. (And there are commentators that have noted that litigation was even possible in a case like this!  How odd!)  Most of the guests didn’t seem to know what was happening, but Jesus’ mother was in a panic.  And so she looks to her son.  “Jesus, fix this!”  And, miracle of miracles, he did.

This has always been an odd story for me. I mean, really, wine? Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor? Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain? Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Now THAT would have been a miracle. But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast. Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more, maybe even enjoy basking in the very Presence of God. Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life. And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself. It begins as ordinary grapes. Well, not really. If you go even farther back, you start with water. Are you beginning to see that, really, everything starts with water? And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed. And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary. And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait. They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait. We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.  And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist. Think about it. We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle, those ordinary things become holy. They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine. Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift. Water and a miracle…Wine is water–plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water. No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself. Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation. No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine. Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.  And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different. God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us. We, too, are water plus a miracle. 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.” It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle, beloved children of God.

Jerusalem is just within our reach.  Our journey holds it in sight.  And so to prepare for what is to come, we remember who we are.  We remember that time that seems like only yesterday and also a lifetime away when Jesus showed us who we were.  And thinking back to this day, thinking back to that first miracle, we realize that it’s not about wine; it’s about us.  This was Jesus’ lesson in who we are.  It’s a reminder that WE are the miracle–created matter, water-born and Spirit-breathed.  We ARE the good wine, saved just for now.  We are water plus a miracle.

There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

There are only days left in our Lenten journey, days left to gather ourselves for the Cross.  Who are you?  Who were you created to be? What would it mean to live your life as though you were a miracle? 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli