the silence of the word

At Preacher’s Camp—I can’t remember if it was a suggestion someone made, or if it came up in conversation—I can’t remember if it was last year or the year before, but I made a mental note that it would make a good sermon title: “things I hope you’ve heard me say.” Might go well with a subsequent sermon: “things I hope you never hear me say!”

I was thinking about that in preparation for our Maundy Thursday meal and service, reflecting back on Jesus’ preparation for what would be his last meal with his disciples. Jesus went into that knowing that, we presume. According to the fourth gospel, of course, he knew everything! But to someone as acute at reading the signs as Jesus, surely it must have been obvious, that his time with his disciples was growing short.

So as Jesus prepared himself—do you think about Jesus’ preparing himself? I do. I don’t think of Jesus as one just always prepared. I think of him preparing himself—studying Scripture, thinking hard about it—imagining stories told this way and that—a teaching phrased this way and that. And as he prepared himself for this meal and service we remember tonight, maybe he thought back through the stories he had told these disciples. Maybe he considered his teachings—the insights into God and what it means to follow God. Maybe he reflected on some of the things they had witnessed—some of the things they had been a part of. And maybe he did try to come up with a short list—a top ten list—here’s what I hope you’ve heard me say.

But maybe he was more preoccupied with what there was yet to say:

I need to say goodbye.”

I need to prepare them for what’s coming.

I need to warn them.

I need to affirm them.

I need to commission them.

I need to make sure they’re ready.

I need to pray for them and with them.

I need to make sure they know to look both ways before crossing the street and to wash hands and to keep their hearts and souls clean.

I need to know they’ll care for each other when their hearts get bruised and that they won’t ever text and drive, or get too close to anything that will burn them.

I need to make sure they know how to be vulnerable and to keep their integrity safe.

I need to make sure they know how much I love them.

I need to be present to them.

I need them to know I so want to be there for them when their hearts get broken—and when their lives take song—when their dreams turn to dust—and when dust is raised to new life—be there to remind them always to be kind and to be truthful and to be faithful. I need them to know I’ll be with them when their circumstances leave them wondering how my stories and teachings might apply….

And I need to enjoy this time with them—just being with them.

What is there to say at a time like that?

According to John’s Gospel, he didn’t say a thing. But took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, washed his disciples’ feet and dried them off with that towel. Never said a word. Peter did … of course!—interrupted the drama of the moment—the flow of the power of symbolic act. Of course he did! But that was okay. Jesus didn’t lose it. As much as Jesus prepared, he knew how to roll with it—knew how to roll with it and knew the importance of rolling with it. He dealt with Peter, then continued his silent task to the last foot, put back on his outer robe, returned to the table.

Now remember which Gospel this is. John’s Gospel. Do you remember the first sign in the fourth Gospel? At the wedding in Cana, Jesus had water poured out, and he turned it into wine (John 2:1-11). Now, in Jerusalem, he pours out water, and he washes feet, and this is the truer sign. This says more about the truth of God.

“I needed to get your attention to tell you what’s truly important. I had to do something you couldn’t do to remind you, more importantly, of what you can.”

“And it’s really the same story, isn’t it? The water turned to wine and the wedding party kept going, and as long as you wash each other’s feet, as long as you show each other such respect, as long as no one gets to feeling like they’re too important or that someone else isn’t important enough, as long as you do for others what I just did for you, you remember me, and the party for love and commitment will never end.”

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