Maundy Thursday Service
“The Outer Robe of Our Hearts”
Many of you know that I’m an avid sports enthusiast, particularly a Cleveland sports enthusiast. This means of course I’m also a miserable person. But that didn’t stop me from gushing over the sight of a high level executive of one of our professional teams in this very church. I admit I was a little star struck. I became a giddy school girl as I wondered how I would introduce myself. But I didn’t introduce myself; the reason being that he was in street clothes. He was with family…he probably didn’t want his celebrity to be called out for all to see. His attire reminded me that despite being on TV and subject of the news, he was just a guy. The contrast between the guy that I saw in church and the guy that I saw on TV was noticeable.
Sometimes when I talk with someone who attends the 11:00 service during the week out in the community, they remark how different I seem without my robe on.
In our Scripture today, the disciples were surprised by a man that they have come to respect, look up to, and also claim as Messiah. Jesus undignified himself in front of them by taking off his outer robe…during dinner no less! Now we know that this was no mere man, but isn’t to forget the importance of understanding Christ’s humanity. Jesus, though, could have proven his humanity in any number of ways and did…but this was as step further. He made himself to be a man of the lowest stature –a servant. And after wrapping a towel around his waist, he began to wash the dirty feet of the disciples. The scene was so contrary to Peter’s frame of understanding that he refused to let Jesus touch his toes.
I have to say I’m with Peter on this one. During my time as a pastor I’ve been invited to many dinners; and something like this would be a sure-fire way to never be invited to dinner again (and probably to lose my job). What in the world is Jesus doing?
Nationally recognized author and speaker Brene Brown, who is a researcher and social worker, sat down with thousands of people that would describe life as going well and those who would say it’s not going so well. She said that all of it hinged on connection for people. The vehicle, she explains (and this is my paraphrase), for connection is vulnerability. You have to let people really see who you are in order for them to connect with you and in turn you connect with them. The aversion to vulnerability leaves people disconnected. And the consequence of disconnection, she explains from her research, is shame.
And so it actually should be no surprise, then, that Jesus was unashamed in his vulnerable act of disrobing himself. He was illustrating what it takes to connect. Connect with one another and especially connect with God in relationship. Did you catch what Jesus said to Peter after dismissing the idea of washing his feet?
“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” The word “share” (meros in the Greek) signifies a connection, a fellowship. As scholar Gail O’Day says, the word “share” means to share his home –that is, the Father’s home. Like family. In other words, if you don’t allow this vulnerability, Peter, you will remain disconnected from me.
I have to admit, I might have been the ones in Brene Brown’s research – not wanting to be disconnected but too ashamed to be vulnerable enough to allow connection to happen. What is it about this world that not only refuses to be vulnerable but adds layer upon layer of façade to ensure authenticity never happens?
After Christmas, in the season of Epiphany, the pastors preached a theme of sermons called The Real World, which played off of the idea of Reality Television. There’s a great deal of irony is the name “Reality Television.” It was supposed to be about people who weren’t actors living unscripted lives, but that’s definitely not the case. And even if it were, something happens when someone is placed in front of a camera to cause them to stop being themselves.
But the truth is, we don’t even need a camera to act out a façade, do we? It’s one thing to hide all the negative stuff: our sins, our fears, our doubts, our confusion, our depression, our marital problems, our family dysfunction, our addiction, our grief. But it’s even common for us to hide our joy, our celebration, our love for fear of revealing too much of ourselves.
This is not the way of Christ. For as we come to accept the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ, that connection in relationship is so strong that vulnerability is just a way of life and character.
These last couple of cold, snowy days have been an annoying reminder that this was a hard, long winter (as if we needed one!). But Spring is breaking through. Last weekend, when it was warm and sunny, brought so many people out of hibernation. Walkers, joggers, and runners all took to the streets and pathways. The sound of a lawnmower was music to my ears. I decided to do some yard work myself. When I was in the front yard picking up sticks, I was surprised by a funny, little thing. One of my neighbors, a school-aged girl swung open the front door, stepped out, and in an expression of pure, unashamed joy shouted: “It’s wonderful outside!” It was so cute.
Friends, through the example of Christ we are called to be an authentic people in good times and in bad. That authenticity leads to vulnerability, which can be a scary thing. But please don’t let our fear of vulnerability lead us to say as Peter did to Christ: “You will never wash my feet.” But let us take off the outer robe of our hearts to let God in. Our connection with God…our relationship with God…depends on it.