This morning's service began outside the church. We went inside, waving bits of palm frond for Palm Sunday. Lucky for us, there's plenty of palms around here.
Joy seized me I entered the sanctuary. Joy was just there. I was full of joy, the joy of the Lord. It was amazing and wonderful. I'm still riding on that joy, despite dealing with some difficult things today.
I could picture myself on the road to Jerusalem so many years ago:
The air is a little cooler. I arch my neck into it, as I stand in the scant shade the palm tree provides.
Other than the breath of breeze, the road to Jerusalem is quiet. I am quiet, waiting, still.
I straighten my tired back. I want to stand tall and at attention, for I know he is coming. My savior is coming toward me.
I saw him before. I heard his words, and I cannot forget him. I've been waiting for him.
I watch, hand to brow to shade my eyes, as I peer into the distance.
Nothing. But I know he is coming. He is on his way to Jerusalem today.
At last, see a speck of white. It is a colt. Little puffs of dust raise from the colt's feet and around the ankles of the people walking behind the animal.
It is my lord who sits astride the colt.
The group draws closer.
Hosanna! My redeemer is here.
Joy fills me. It's depth surprises me. It fills me; it overflows me; it comes from the center of my being. I can almost feel it drip from my fingertips.
The Messiah is here. Hosanna! Hosanna!
I fall in at the back of the procession. I don't know how this journey will end, but I will follow him.
This disciple reminds of the one I wrote about a few years ago. Of course, this disciple is thee and me.
It started as a Maundy Thursday meditation, then grew into a story about a young disciple to whom I can relate -- of strong faith, yet sometimes foolish, and quick to succumb to despair. I think my own understanding grew through writing the story. The disciple is one of my favorite creations.
Here's the story, for those of you who haven't read it.
A disciple's tale
Maundy Thursday: Who will wash these feet?
Prologue, in the spiritual plane:
Feeling pissy, Satan asks, "For heaven's sake. If you're God, how can you demean yourself with their smelly, stinky feet?"
Jesus looks at him with pity, then says, "Humility fosters love, from both the giver and the recipient."
"Oh, fine." Satan says. "Just continue with this 'humble servant' bit. See where it gets you."
"You will see," replies Jesus. He sighs. "Most of the time, my disciples don't get it, either."
The Disciple's tale:
It had been a long week. Jesus came riding into the city as an honored prophet. Many accepted Jesus as our Messiah, and some continued their disbelief. Jesus had been saying some puzzling things that we did not understand, but tonight, we would relax and have this supper together.
It is the time of the Passover. As it is written in the Book of Genesis, "This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance."
It is the custom to bathe before coming to a banquet. We arrive clean, except for our feet, which get very dirty on the streets and roads. Usually, a servant will bring water to wash the guests' feet before the banquet.
We came in, and found our accustomed seats. We said prayers and sang songs just as we do every time we come together. Nothing seemed different tonight than any other night except that Judas was gone, and except that tonight, there was no one to bring water to wash our feet, and no one volunteered.
I thought about it, but didn't want to appear lower than my actual station, for I was a disciple, not a servant.
We proceeded with the meal. I was careful to keep my dirty feet out of sight. They discomforted me. I saw Jesus get up and wrap a towel around his waist.
He took a towel, bowl and basin and began to wash his disciples' feet. I drew back in embarrassment. I heard Peter protest, then acquiesce.
I lurked in the back in confusion, hoping to avoid notice.
These ugly feet were no fit offering to the Lord. I kept them tucked back, hidden from his sight.
Jesus approached me.
"Why then, Lord, are you now kneeling in front of me, like a servant? Are you going to wash my feet, too?" I asked. I was shocked.
"No, I can't allow that," I said.
My feet were caked with dirt, for I had been long on the road this day. My toenails were thick and uneven. The nails and cuticles of my toes were grimy. My feet were covered in thick calluses and dry, cracked, peeling skin. And more dirt.
Lord, I thought, I can't let you look upon these feet, much less touch them. You were not meant for this.
Jesus looked up at me.
I implored, "Ask something else of me, Lord, and I will give it, I will do it."
He gazed at me steadily. I saw love and compassion in his eyes, and I was smitten in return.
I knew he understood my embarrassment, my pride that made me want to hide these unattractive members from his sight. But he already knew. He had already seen.
Hesitantly, I pulled my feet from their hiding place.
The water sparkled as he poured it over my feet. I heard a soft murmuring and splashing of water.
Layer by the layer, he washed the grime away. The water was soothing, relaxing. I felt the blood moving through my feet, my hands, my heart. I floated into this renewal.
Jesus' hands healed the cuts and sores on my feet. He held my feet as he carefully dried them with the towel. My feet were clean and warm.
Who am I that my Lord should tend to me as a servant?
No one. Yet he makes me worthy.
I am filled with a deep peace.
Thank you Lord, for this gift.
This is what happened with the Lord on the night of Passover. He taught us.
What I received from the Lord, I hand on to you. Let me look upon you with Christ's eyes, see you with Christ's love, treat you with Christ's humility. Allow me now to follow Christ's example of servanthood. Allow me to wash your feet.
We will be blessed if we do these things for each other.
Where is my God?
How can it be that my Lord is dead? I thought that cruel execution would be stopped. I prayed for it to be stopped. Yet my Lord is dead.
How could you have left me? How could you have forsaken me?
I am desolate with grief.
People on the streets snicker and say, "Where is your Lord now?"
I don't think I can even stand, yet I run from their sneering faces. I run from the image of the blood-soaked figure, lifeless, as his mother croons over him. That image has the force a thousand knives plunged into my heart. I run from it.
I run like a dog who has lost its master, loping this way then that, pawing the ground, panting with thirst.
I stop in a grove of olives. I rend my shirt. I claw at my chest until I see drops of bright, red blood fall to the ground. Yet there is no atonement for what was done. I am sick in my soul.
My Lord, my Lord, have you left us? How could you abandon us?
The sunlight is dull and wan. I watch until nightfall, and there are no stars.
I cannot sleep. Oh God, grant me death, too. My face is stiff with tears that brought no comfort, and still I cannot sleep.
I stumble back into the city, avoiding the soldiers and the mockers, and ask where they have taken my Lord. I find the tomb. I sit and lean against the stone wall.
Was it only two nights ago that we broke bread? You washed my feet. I look at them now and they are filthy and bloody.
My Lord, where have you gone?
I will wait here for whatever is to come. I lean against the cold stone, and at last, I sleep.
Saturday night, Sunday morning
Listen to my story:
I sleep against the hard stone of the tomb of my Lord Jesus, called the Messiah, who had been crucified and buried. A couple of guards come by and poke at me, but I refuse to move. I am too exhausted and too grieved to care. If they take my life, so much the better. I no longer need it.
I go back to sleep.
"Disciple, wake up. Arise," comes a voice.
I float up to consciousness from a very deep place.
"Awake. Your Lord needs you."
A creature stands before me, luminous in the dark. It is beautiful, the creature, but very strange. Almost like a man, but not. I have trouble seeing it properly. Its glow makes it hard for me to focus on it.
The world is moving in odd ways.
It speaks. "Don't go fainting on me. You have work to do."
The creature touches the stone in front of the tomb. It rumbles away from the entrance to the cave.
Listen. I see the risen Lord.
He walks toward me. He is beautiful, so beautiful. He glows with a luminosity much greater than that of the creature beside me.
It is him.
I can see the empty funeral linens behind Him.
He's dressed in white. He moves with a fluid grace. I don't know how this could be, but it is.
He has risen. He shines in glory. I see it with my own eyes.
Listen to the good news.
I remember what He said about the three days. I hadn't understood.
With one scarred hand, He touches my forehead. Peace comes over me.
"Tell the others when they come. Disciple, you will make disciples. Tell your story."
I can only say yes.
I kneel. He puts His hand on the top of my head for a moment, then walks past me in radiance.
My clothes are now beautiful and white. The wound on my chest is gone. My feet are clean and soft, and my skin is as fine as a child's.
He has done many miraculous things. This is the most miraculous.
"Wait here for the others," says the creature who had awakened me. It only can have been an angel.
I sit on top of the stone, waiting and examining my new clothes and my new skin, when the Roman guards come back. I enjoy their confusion over the open tomb.
"Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth?" I ask in my best and most holy of voices. I chortle at the guards'confusion.
They look into the cave and then look at me in my new appearance with their mouths open, not recognizing the disciple they tried to roust a little earlier.
"He is not here. He is gone. An angel came and moved the stone with one finger. Now he is risen and he is gone."
I am now laughing, holding my sides. I realize this is joy, come back into the world.
"He died, but he rose again. He will never forsake us." I lift my arms. "Share my joy!"
The guards back carefully away from me, then run up the path from the tomb.
I sit rocking myself, singing, praying and praising and laughing through the night. I wait until I see Mary Magdalene on the path, then I jump down from the stone, landing lightly on my feet, ready to tell her the good news.
Listen, all of you, to my testimony and we shall make disciples of many, for Jesus Christ is alive. He brings life and salvation.