"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Maundy Thursday SERVICE?
Yesterday, in a liturgy planning
session, I expressed a desire to do something different for Maundy Thursday
(this year to be April 2).
The custom in
many churches – one I don’t like, for reasons I explain a bit below -- is a ritual foot-washing, where clergy wash each other’s feet, then the feet of
others, then others are invited to wash each other’s feet.
The symbolism is fine
– in a scene found only in the Gospel of John (Matthew, Mark, or Luke do not record it), after the Last Supper, Jesus stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and
washed his disciple’s feet.
So that first "Maundy Thursday," Jesus did what only a servant would do -- and the lowest-ranked servant at that.
He modeled service.
He told his followers that following him meant loving him, and loving him meant loving and serving others.
But here's the thing: Jesus did something that was done on a daily basis: in a culture/society where sandals and dust and probably raw sewage was common, but well before modern daily showers, covered shoes, and clean sidewalks, foot-washing was common.
It isn't anymore.
But the church has turned Jesus' one-time, one-Gospel-recorded foot-washing demonstration into a ritual, a liturgy. Sometimes it's even set to pretty music.
Fair enough: the church has done the same thing with the other event that happened that night -- the Last Supper, turning it, too, into a ritual, a liturgy-sometimes-set-to-pretty-music.
But first of all, that (the Last Supper) was re-appropriating a ritual meal already long in place (the Seder).
And second, eating bread and drinking wine are still common practices. We still do that.
The foot-washing, on the other hand, seemed to be a one-time dramatic-demonstration-to-make-a-point, much like when he gathered a small child in his arms to make a shock-value point about who is most able to comprehend Kingdom-of-Heaven values, or when he rode humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey instead triumphantly in a chariot to make a shock-value point about the kind of ruler he is.
It doesn't seem Jesus was trying to institute a formal church custom in those instances.
I don't have any trouble with churches and people who find meaning in this ritual. My intention here is not to try to talk anyone out of doing this, or anything else, if they find it makes them better disciples of Jesus, closer to God, more loving to their fellow human beings.
But -- using "I" statements here -- for the reasons above, I find the foot-washing service (at least as I've always done it and seen it done) as contrived, or precious. And if I’m reading my Bible correctly, there is nothing contrived or precious about Jesus. So since coming to my new church, taking advantage of having a blank slate/fresh start, I haven’t done it. (We've done an instructed Eucharist instead.)
But I don't want to throw out the baby of loving-service-to-others with the foot-washing bathwater. (Ha! You see what I did there?)
So I am looking for something else to do this and future Maundy Thursdays.
when it struck me: let’s do a “Maundy Thursday SERVICE.”
A day, or an
evening, when we – who as inside-the-beltway Episcopalians are ordinarily in
positions to BE served – serve.
Which begs the question, “where,
whom, to serve?” Among the many possibilities, how to choose? Who else out there has gone out into the city, not out of a sense of noblesse oblige (the "inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged,") but out of a loving, Christ-like, Jesus-following sense?
It begs the further questions: "who are those who normally serve? -- easy answers are waiters, bus drivers, cashiers. How about cleaning crews? Parking garage attendants? Public servants? The point is, “what would it look like if instead of making Maundy Thursday a
day when people should come to the church building, the church (people) went
out to those who spend much of their days (working lives)
serving others, and we serve them, somehow?” Thus, our “Maundy Thursday service.”
Alternatively, we could serve
the city: Is there some unwanted task
in the city somewhere, some nasty project no one wants to take on that 100 church folk could descend upon and make a real difference in one day?
That’s as far as I’ve gotten
with the idea. But this wheel has to have been invented out there. There HAS to be lots of good ideas and practices. Right?
No one can -- and I certainly don't want to try -- to unpack every tweet the person currently holding the office of President of the United States sends out.
No one has the time to respond to every one of his tweets on just one issue. Although I wish I had the time on the issue of the Executive Orders recently issued in regard to refugees.
But every so often I feel I MUST respond to at least SOME of those tweets, lest I grow accustomed to them as normal. And I refuse to normalize the abnormal.
Take one of Saturday's tweets, for example: in response to Judge Robart's temporarily stopping an Executive Orders, there was this:
“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?”
Let's unpack: "What is our country coming to..." Does that lament sound familiar? Ask yourself: who often says it, where do you hear it from the most? Is it a positive, hopeful line of thinking? I wil…
A sermon preached January 29, 2017 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the p…
Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal Falls
Church, Virginia James
7:24-37 In case you’re confused by the service leaflet,
where it says Kelly is supposed to be preaching today, well, she was, and she
was planning to. But yesterday she came down with the stomach flu, and of
course we encouraged her to stay home until she’s 100%. (And to think I came this close to getting out of having to preach on a couple of very tough passages…) (Kelly’s sermon, by the way, was written well ahead
of time and is, as we have already come to expect, excellent. And inspiring – I
was inspired reading it.* Hard copies are available, and will be made available
on line.) What you’re going to get from me today is a little
different than a normal sermon. Today I want to tell you a story – a bit of my own
family history -- and then read you a poem. And then show you how I think that
story and the poem relate to today’s lessons and to current events. …