What is Required for Glory?
A homily preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli for Foundry UMC April 9, 2020, Maundy Thursday.
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
These days, most of us are looking at ourselves a lot. Video chats and ZOOM calls happening on all sorts of devices are the “rooms” where people now gather for work meetings, happy hours, reunions, AA, and other Anonymous meetings. And these technologies not only show us others’ faces, but our own. Folks have begun to fret a bit about what we look like in these spaces—and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to present yourself well. We know there are all sorts of cultural factors and prejudices around appearances that don’t get canceled just because everything else is. But in any case, how to appear in the virtual world has become increasingly a live conversation.
I’ve joked over these past weeks about the rising wave of online tutorials about how to do your makeup so that you don’t look like a zombie on screen. There’s lots of chatter and even folk posting pictures of how they’re trying to sort out what to do with their hair (cuts, colors, etc). And maybe it’s just me, but I’ve started getting lots of ads for all sorts of miracle creams. I’ve become concerned with how much I identify with writer Anne Lamott’s hilarious and profound reflection about the time she was convinced that, in order to deal with the challenges of Real Life, what she really needed was “a tiny little neck lift.” Truth is, I don’t like how I look on screens and in selfies. The lopsidedness of my face shows up, my lack of sleep and all my wrinkles show. The bags under my eyes and blemishes and everything I so carefully try to disguise in my day-to-day life appear with a vengeance. I don’t want people to see that stuff. So in this season of all screens all the time I’ve been laboring to use all my “America’s Next Top Model” knowledge and work my angles and find the light. I walk around my home with enough makeup on to put classic silent film stars to shame.
And the story tonight is about Jesus washing the disciples.
Some of you may remember the powerful scene in the television show “How To Get Away With Murder” when Viola Davis’s character, Annelise Keating, a powerful, brilliant, gorgeous lawyer, has learned that her husband has betrayed her. She sits at her dressing table and we see her looking at her reflection and, eyes filled with pain, she removes her wig, then her false eyelashes, then washes her face with a towel. It is an extraordinary, intimate vision of unfolding vulnerability and raw humanity.
What if Jesus is drawing near to all of us right now and with water and a towel to wash us, to wipe off all the things we use and do and say to not only try to make ourselves presentable and acceptable, but also to cover up, to defend ourselves, to hide ourselves? What if Jesus is sitting us down in front of a mirror or a screen and saying, “Look.”? I don’t know about you, but I would be right there with Simon Peter, “Nope! You will never wash me!” I don’t want to show that much. I don’t want to be that vulnerable or raw or exposed. I don’t like the way I look without all my rationalizations and striving. I want to keep my secrets and coverups. I don’t want to show how afraid I am, how anxious I feel, how broken my heart… I can’t let you that close to me, Jesus.
And Jesus’s response: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” What is it to be washed by Jesus? If you have ever had your feet washed, think about what that’s like… It is humility. It is vulnerability. It is intimacy. It is availability, offering yourself—a part of yourself that you may not find easy to share. It is a willingness to let that part of you be served, touched, loved. Jesus draws near for that kind of relationship…and is perfectly able to receive us in whatever shape we’re really in. [Show photo?] We may struggle to look at our real, true selves. But it’s your true self that Jesus sees. Jesus sees all the blemishes and the scars, the laugh lines and tear stains… Jesus knows all about your accomplishments and also about your struggles and triumphs and failures, about your deepest fears and your greatest hopes. Jesus knows how you have hurt others and yourself and about the ways that you have shown care and sacrificial generosity and love. Jesus knows, Jesus sees…you.
And Jesus saw those with whom he gathered around the table so long ago. He knew them and all that they had been through. He knew what they had given up and what they had accomplished. And he knew what they had done and what they would do. // I wonder what Jesus’ countenance would look like were we to see it on that night long ago. I imagine his image might reveal a deep loneliness. Because Jesus was alone even in the midst of his closest friends; he alone knew what was going on and what was likely to come in the days ahead.
Bearing the burden of this insight, Jesus stepped away from the table and began to give himself away. Kneeling at the feet of the ones who would deny and betray him, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He who came from the very glory of God, stooped to wash the feet of his friends and the feet of his betrayer. //
He acknowledges that they don't know what he is doing. And then he makes it plain. “I have just given you an image, a picture of myself, a real picture of what it means to be truly human.”… “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” And what is the picture? What has he done? He has stripped himself bare, humbled himself and served humanity in the most basic and menial way, washing their feet, handling the calluses and dust, the unsightly and the aches—all those things we so desperately want to hide—with his own hands. Jesus, who humbly received this same gift from Mary who anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair, doesn’t ask the disciples to do anything that he hasn’t been willing to do himself. Jesus gives the disciples a picture of what love looks like, what true humanity looks like. It is not filtered or overly protected, it isn’t self-serving or fearful or prideful. Jesus reveals that to be truly and fully human is to risk everything for the sake of love, to serve others, to humbly receive care, to give oneself away.
Notice that our reading jumps from verse 17 to 31b. In those intervening verses, Judas leaves to do the thing that will lead to Jesus’ arrest and ultimate crucifixion. It was at that point that Jesus is recorded as talking about his “glorification.” Evidently, God’s glory is revealed when we know how risky it is to love and to serve, but do it anyway, perhaps trusting that love will win in the end.
Just as Jesus saw all of Judas and loved him and served him, Jesus sees the self that you are hiding and the self you are carefully presenting to the world and the self that you can be. And Jesus loves you still. There’s nothing photo shopped or filtered about Jesus’s love for you. It is flesh and blood, up close and personal, stripped bare. //
So hear the words spoken to you, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We are beckoned to allow Jesus to wash us, to show us ourselves, to help us be humble and strong and to step ever more fully into the life that is uniquely our own. And then, humbled and empowered to share in the glory of Christ, we are called to hold the callused and the dirty, the unsightly and the aching of the world in our own hands, to offer ourselves to others—unsightly, scarred, and lopsided as we may be. To love one another as you have been loved by Jesus means that even when you know the risks, even when you know what others are capable of, you take off your defenses, kneel, and wash their feet anyway.