Sunday, April 5, 2015
The Wisdom of Knowing
Culminating in my sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, I will be exploring different aspects of wisdom...of listening and discerning God's call on our lives as we move through Holy Week. This was preached on Maundy Thursday, 2015.
Do you know what I have done to you? It was a live question for the disciples who, throughout the Gospels, exhibited a recurring inability to grasp the deeper significance of Jesus’ actions and teachings. And Peter embodied this spiritual ignorance so well: “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Though Peter eventually relented to Jesus’ desire to wash his feet, his initial resistance shows just how easy it was, and still is, for even the closest of Jesus’ companions to fail at grasping what Jesus was up to in their midst.
Do you know what I have done to you? It is a live question for us, who gather around this table for another remembrance of the moment where God-in-flesh stripped off his outer garments, washed the dirt-caked feet of his friends, and gave them the commandment that sounds as clearly as it ever has: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” As I said on Palm Sunday, none of us can truly grasp how significant, how wonderful, and how earth-shattering the passion of our Lord is. No priest, no prophet, no sage…we tell this nearly 2,000 year old story again and again, and still the depth of this mystery eludes us. And so, I imagine that Jesus might say the same thing to us tonight, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”J
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and why he was doing it. He was attuned to the divine wisdom, attuned to it through prayer and attention to both the voice of God and the shifting allegiances of the people. There was little ambiguity about what was needed in the moment, and what was going to follow: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” And while he was understandably fearful, as other Gospel accounts suggest, he nevertheless faced his coming hour of departure with dignity and grace. Even more than that, he faced it with the conviction that his life of service and message of love would not be lost on account of his departure. Rather, his life and message would be carried forward by those who, though only partly aware of the significance of his life, would later understand just what it meant to know all that Jesus had done to them and for them.
And if there is even just a fraction of truth to the legends of service and martyrdom told of his disciples, then it’s safe to say that what Jesus was trying to teach them eventually became deeply written into the story of their lives. They came to know what Jesus had asked of them in the way musicians know how to capture the real beauty of a piece of music. When you know a piece of music so deeply, so intimately, it becomes so much more than clinically and precisely executing notes written on a page. It becomes a living, breathing expression of something so beautiful it isn’t just heard; it is felt and experienced. Likewise, those who follow Jesus’ command to love one another, and by extension the whole world, embody this love, they ‘know’ this love, when they reflect the beauty of Jesus’ life in their lives as well.
The wisdom of knowing ‘what Jesus has done to us’ is not just understanding intellectually the events of this night so long ago. It isn’t simply grasping the facts of what happened, or even the reasons why they happened. The wisdom of knowing bears fruit in our lives when we, at the deepest part of who we are, pledge to live like Jesus did, to love like Jesus did and still does. To quote a friend, “No longer observers and responders in a third person relation with Jesus, those gathered for this liturgy are now called to imitate Jesus. That is the ‘point’ that Jesus makes in the footwashing account.”
So, let us attend to the ‘wisdom’ Jesus offered to his disciples and to us gathered around the table: “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” The wisdom that comes from listening to the beckoning voice of God naturally leads us to a kind of deep, intimate knowledge that is written on our hearts, in our bones, visible through what we do with our hands and feet in the service of Jesus. It comes from letting God’s beckoning voice resound deeply in the chambers our hearts, and makes itself known as we make Jesus known in the world through more than just the rehearsal of an event. We become a living presence of Jesus, a life of service poured out for the life of the world. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s together imitate our Master and our Friend. And as we eat the simple gifts of bread and wine, thereby receiving his body and blood, we would do well to heed the wisdom of St. Augustine: “Be a member of Christ's Body, so that your `Amen' may be the truth...Behold what you are, become what you receive.”
*The text of focus was John 13:1-17, 31b-35.