Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Do You Do? I love...

I don’t really like those social events that you sometimes get invited to to where you have to do small talk. I always wonder where you go after ‘hello my name is Simon.’ One of the easy next questions is something like ‘How long have you lived here?’ or ‘What do you do?’ It’s a conversation starter, but we so often define people in those ways, and leave them at that most simplistic level - oh he’s an accountant, she’s a housewife, she works with kids and so on.

We do this in other ways too - we make assumptions about people all the time because of their height, weight, sexuality, gender, hair colour, and so on. Apparently though, we each have already made an assessment of someone and have weighed up their qualities as a person before they have even opened their mouth. We make thousands of subconcious judgements about each other because of our mannerisms and the way we look. It is something we have learned to do.

Today is a day of unlearning. Instead of defining people by what they do, Jesus encourages us to define people by what we do for them and what they do for us. Don’t define people by what you have already made up your mind they will be - an ex con, therefore they cannot be trusted - instead says Jesus, define them by what they are - fellow human beings, made in the image of God, precious to Him from all eternity and therefore loveable by you.
There seems to be a double focus to today - on the one hand the reading from 1 Corinthians designates today as the day Jesus celebrated Passover before he was betrayed, tried and crucified, and instituted what we recognise as the Eucharist. On the other hand our Gospel reading tonight does not emphasize the institution of the Eucharist. Instead Jesus emphasizes that his disciples need to continue to unlearn all of the social rules.  Today is Maundy Thursday from the Latin mandatum, from Jesus’ words - a new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you... Jesus says eat bread and drink wine to remember his presence in our lives and in the world, but He also calls us to loving service of others and we are to do both in remembrance of Him. Both are essential to our following of Him.

The last few years of our life together here at Holy Trinity have been about unlearning a way of being church, unlearning what we thought being a disciple was about. We have rediscovered that we are each in charge of our destiny with Christ and what we must decide is - do we follow Him or not, do we listen to God or not, do we take seriously that we are loved by Him or not. We have have been unlearning that church is something that is done to us, where we dutifully and gratefully received from Him, and learning rather is is something we are as His body here. As we gather at His table for the family meal in the Eucharist, we do as His brothers and sisters. Here He is remembered, re-membered, not as a historical figure on the pages of history, but as we eat bread and drink wine, He is literally present here amongst us - in each other, expressed by the quality of our love.

But we fail as his disciples if our remembrance of Him is forgotten as we step away from His table or as we leave the church building.  For tonight Jesus gives us a new commandment - yes, listen to what He teaches, yes love God and your neighbour and yourself, but that only has any worth if we are practically showing love to one another as Christ himself has loved us.

This is an abstract sort of comment for Jesus to make, so to show what he means Jesus takes off his outer robe, picks up a bowl and towel and begins to undertake the task of the lowliest of servants. ‘Remember me’ says Jesus, ‘by demonstrating the quality of your love practically to others.’

But Jesus, this night, is not interested in forming a heirachical community where everyone knows their place from the master of the house to the footwashing servant, where there are those who wash feet and those whose feet are washed, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ There is to be a mutuality in Jesus’ body where master and servant alike wash each others feet and love each other in turn.

In a world where we make snap judgements on each other’s character, on who are we are deep down in a blink of an eye, Jesus gives us His church, his body fed with his own body and refreshed into eternal life with His blood, a new commandment, a new way of being which calls us to give to others in acts of loving service, but also to receive love from them in the same way in return. It is a way of being which, when people try to catagorise us as a builder or a teacher, and they subconciously make all sorts of judgements  about us but the thing they notice about us is not what we do, but what we do for others - our expression of God’s love for His world and our receipt of in turn.

We love as He loves every time we support a grieving family. We love as He loves every time we visit someone lonely. We love as He loves every time we play a part in encouraging people out of poverty at home or abroad. And we are able to love because he loved us first by touching the leper clean, by raising the dead, by socializing with tax collectors and sinners, by taking a towel and washing my and your feet and dying for us.

It is not possible to make sense of all that Jesus does today and what he will do in us from Sunday onwards, without acknowledging what he will do tomorrow. It is Christ’s willingness to accept the Cross that makes sense of this self-giving love which we are offered and are to offer in return.
Today Jesus gives His disciples a new command as we remember Him - unlearning our ways of judging others, and as we follow Him learning new ways in love. It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh and through it we are all called into deeper relationship in God. It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh that reaches out and through our actions and words, God makes new disciples. It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh and through it, and our changed lives, that whole communities can be transformed as we each unlearn how to be simply human, and learn from Christ’s loving actions how to become children of God. Amen.

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