Edge of Encounter
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 | Maundy Thursday 2019
St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Carmel Valley CA
Good evening. It is a gift to be with you.
Holy Week is my favorite week of the year. There is nothing like gathering with our community, every day, to partake in rituals that invite us into the thin place—the borderland, where risk and betrayal dance with joy and love.
We wave palm branches, wash feet, break bread, get up in the middle of the night, and welcome new life, to remember that systemic injustice and death-dealing realities will not have the last word.
This week has an intensity that, should be we open to it, is bound to expand our capacities for vulnerability and love.
Our capacity to really enter in, and to let others enter in with us requires trust.
Brené Brown says that trust is grown in choosing to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else.
Trust is grown in choosing to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else.
Trust is built in small moments, small moments that hold the capacity for betrayal or embrace. In other words, trust, or courage, is built in small moments of practicing vulnerability.
As an athlete, I see vulnerability as a muscle. It is strengthened as we practice it. In training, there is concept called “training on your edge.” It is the sweet spot between too little and too much, between comfort and spilling over.
To train on the edge of vulnerability, requires discernment. Like a muscle, if we push too hard too quickly, we can injure ourselves or another. Boundaries are important. But also like a muscle, if we don’t push at all, there is no strength gained.
So, we are called to practice vulnerability in a way that allows for love, life, and freedom to flourish. You know your edges—of what is comfortable and too much.
…and Jesus is inviting us to love one another at the edges of vulnerability.
John’s Gospel tells us the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet-
It is a story of vulnerable risk, betrayal, and love…that is meant to indict and invite us.
It is a story of revolutionary love that upturns social norms, and shifts the needle of leadership from being “out in front”, to being humbly with one another.
Leadership that is okay with messy, dusty, unkept humanity- hairy toes, and weird looking feet. The leadership of Jesus, that says love like I love---up close and personal.
Jesus washing the feet of the disciples gives us a new model for relationship.
that invites us into the place we would not rather go-
into hospitable act of friendship,
that heal our wounds,
and transforms the world.
The Gospel of John is all about humanity mixed up with the holy. John loves the cosmic God who performs miraculous, sensational signs. John is an over-the-top Gospel writer. He wants our imaginations, he wants us to experience the story---to smell and to taste and to experience the revolutionary love of Jesus.
So, will you imagine this scene we have just heard, with me?
It is evening, like it is now.
Jesus and the disciples are doing what they do—they are breaking bread, drinking wine… sharing a meal together.
The room is filled with the dim flickers of light. Oil lamps are scattered on the floor, as ancient uplights. There is a long table at the center of the room, where Jesus is reclined, his feet up, draping slightly over the edge of the chair. His brown skin is covered in dust, his feet are bare, his toes are gnarly, calloused by the miles and miles of walking.
Sandals are gathered at the door. The brown leather straps piled on top of the others. Sometimes I wonder how many times they accidentally swapped shoes. Maybe that was part of the point of dining with bare feet.
The room is full of conversation--- a few of the disciples are talking about their walk from Bethany. Bethany- that small town on the margins of Jerusalem where the sick and poor go to receive care and healing. Bethany- the place where Lazarus had died and been raised by Jesus, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus gave Jesus a dinner, and Mary anointed his feet. They remember this moment, of how she touched his body with loving care, and wiped his feet with her hair. The smell of this act of love still permeates from Jesus’ skin.
Jesus listens to the disciples remember the events that have brought them here, they remember Lazarus, the anointing of Jesus’ feet, the dusty walk that started in the margins of Bethany, and the palm branches that welcomed them into Jerusalem.
Clay cups are clanking, the night wearing on. The festival of the Passover is coming, where, as Jews, they will celebrate their liberation and freedom from slavery. The conversation turns to a murmur as someone brings up that there are plots to kill Jesus. The air in the room grows thick. There is great joy, and great confusion. Jesus sees this.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus knows three things for sure. Jesus knows that he is going to die, he belongs to God, and that he will love his friends to the end.
So, what does he do with what he knows?
He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself.
He pours water into a basin.
He brings the basin of water to the table,
Reaches out and grabs the feet of one of his disciples.
Jesus touches their dusty, dirty, gnarly feet.
He lets his skin touch theirs.
Around this table are people whom Jesus loves. They are his friends- and
They are also the ones who will soon, deny, betray, forget, and runaway from him.
In this loving action, of opening himself to them, he is risking something.
His love does not hang on comfort or safety.
His love takes risks. He knows their betrayal.
And he loves them anyway.
His rough carpenter hands,
Washing their feet-
What a profound moment of vulnerability.
It’s vulnerable because…
Feet are the parts of our body that we keep under socks, and socks that are under shoes. Feet are not only literally, but symbolically, the places that we keep veiled, hidden, tucked up and away. Eastern medicine’s wisdom says that feet are the very places that hold our memories and traumas. They are also the site for healing.
There are places on our feet that correspond to our internal organs. When your feet are touched with intention, pain and anxiety can be reduced. Some even believe---deep healing can take place.
To have our feet exposed, literally or symbolically, is to open our story to another. All that we have lived, regretted, and loved is carried in the dust that covers our feet. What does it mean to risk having our feet, or our stories touched by another? What might it feel like to allow ourselves to be known, to receive love, before we turn around to give it?
And receiving love is vulnerable, especially when it comes from a place you do not expect.
The disciples know the social customs. Only servants wash feet.
But Jesus loves in a wild way—and so he subverts this norm to show the disciples that love is servant leadership.
Servant leadership that first receives, so that it can give.
Remember the woman anointing Jesus’ feet at Bethany?
What if that moment—a moment of unexpected blessing from a marginal woman, healed something in Jesus, so that he could turn around and share that healing with us?
As one of my teacher’s Amy-Jill Levine says, “Jesus does not always have to be original in order to be profound.”
We receive, and we give.
The Gospel of John tells us that the story goes on. After Jesus washed their feet, put his robe back on, and returned to the table, he said to them…
Love one another as I have loved you.
This is our new commandment, the foundation of our faith.
We are to love like the God that risks, and gets down and up close and personal, who is okay with messy hair, gnarly feet, questions, and misunderstandings.
We are to love like the God that invites strangers to dinner, who wants to be friends, and desires to be close enough to really know how we are doing.
We are to love like the God who received love and anointing from a woman who others shut out—who let his wounds, and fears of suffering be seen & soothed by her.
Tonight, Jesus has made us his friends.
And friendship, the good kind of friendship,
Sees wounds and shame,
the dusty, veiled spots of our stories,
grabs our feet,
embraces our humanity,
Grabs a towel and some water,
I see you-
And yes, I love you anyway.