Thursday, April 09, 2009

Until We Laugh

A sermon preached Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2009, in the Episcopal Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 Three-year-old Savannah cried every day she was in the parish day school. Sometimes she would wail. At other times she would whimper. Her incessant crying got worse when she would come to chapel.

Savannah was blind. Maybe because she could not see, the strangeness of school frightened her. Or maybe her emotional problems had nothing to do with her blindness. For the priest, leading a chapel service with Savannah in it was challenging. Her moaning seemed to be a poignant commentary on the emptiness of words.

Maundy Thursday came. The day school director asked me if I would come and explain to the children about Maundy Thursday. “Let’s do a foot-washing,” I suggested. I gathered the children around. “Jesus looked for a way to show his friends how much he cared for them,” I began. Savannah began to cry. “The people where Jesus lived had a way of showing their guests respect. When people would visit them, generally a servant would take off their sandals and wash their dusty feet.”

“Jesus wants to wash your feet,” I said as I poured water into a basin. “He wants to show you how much he loves you. He wants you and me to understand that there is nothing better or more important to do than to love one another as he loves us. And as a sign of that, he wants to wash our feet, as if he were a servant whose only job was to do that.”

I had no idea how children would react to foot-washing. Would it seem silly? Invasive? Too strange? One by one they took off their shoes and socks. They all held their feet over the basin. I poured warm water over their feet, washed and dried each one. Some giggled a bit. Most were mesmerized. “Remember to love everyone as Jesus loves you,” I said as I washed each little foot. A few hung back. The room grew quiet, but for the sounds of water washing, the clink of my ring on the side of the pan.

A teacher held Savannah, who was strangely silent, but for a little sniffling. She bent down, holding Savannah’s bare foot over the basin. I poured water. “Savannah, remember…” Savannah let out a little giggle. And another. Then she threw her head back and laughed deeply. “Again,” she said. I poured more water, pressed her foot between my palms. She laughed and laughed. Then another couple of children picked up the laughter, and like a blaze it spread across faces and foreheads till the whole room was laughing with Savannah.

The water of life runs over fearful hearts and stony, runs down the cracks and crevices and gets to places that nothing else can reach. Teary places, scary places where no light ever comes. Lord, do not wash only my feet, but my hands and my head and my heart and my soul and all the places where I hide from the truth and all the places where I keep my bad dreams. Wash me through and through in the places where my secrets weigh me down. Wash away my sins, but wash away my fears as well. Let me feel you holding my feet, even when I cannot see you. Wash me, Lord, wash me, until I laugh again.

© Frank G. Dunn, 2009

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