Maundy Thursday Sermon: Pilgrimage

April 2nd, 2015

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

We are going to begin talking a lot about taking a “Pilgrimage in Place” around here while Doyt is gone on sabbatical. We are going to be doing some walking together and on our own during our beautiful northwest summer. We’re going to explore meditation, labyrinths, and find out more about traditional pilgrimage routes such as the Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

I came across this wonderful quote just the other day in a book on pilgrimage by University of Oxford academic and scholar, Charles Foster. He writes:

“Christian pilgrimage can and should be a walk with Jesus. And that is necessarily a walk in kingdom territory, under those upside-down kingdom rules. The pilgrim road is a physical peninsula of the kingdom. As the kingdom sprang up around the sandals of Jesus, so kingdom flowers can spring up around pilgrim boots. Not necessarily, of course, but it often happens” (xv–xvi).

For me, Holy Week always feels a little like we’re going on a walk with Jesus, a walk in kingdom territory. We gather each night for some kind of worship experience that is deep and profound in the way the liturgy, the music, and the pageantry weave together to engage the senses and the soul.

Each night builds, one upon the other. I guess you could consider Holy Week itself a physical peninsula of the kingdom. The gospel stories we hear this week tell us of Jesus’ actions in these final days leading up to the crucifixion. It’s like you can see the kingdom springing up around the sandals of Jesus as he travels from his friends’ house in Bethany, where he paid a final visit to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, before truly setting his face towards Jerusalem and beginning in earnest that final walk.

This is a night like no other. It is a night set apart, a night to remember in our words and actions, a most dramatic and pivotal moment in scripture. The night Jesus gathered at table with his disciples for a final meal and once again re-ordered the structures of power through simple, profound acts, of washing, blessing and breaking bread, and passing the cup.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asks his disciples after washing their feet. He goes on to say, “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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Have you ever been in the presence of someone, whom you greatly admire, have utmost respect for, and are honestly a little afraid of? That’s how I imagine it would have felt being in that room with Jesus as he got up from the table and started washing everyone’s feet.

Let me tell you a story. I had a teacher a seminary, my advisor and mentor, for whom I had and still have tremendous respect. She is an incredible teacher, an inspiration in the way she lives her life, and every single time I was in her presence as a student, I was stricken mute. I had no clue what to say to her. I actually had the opportunity to see her recently here in Seattle and it wasn’t much better. She gave me a big hug. We exchanged a few simple words and big smiles and that was pretty much it.

I kind of feel like that’s how it might have gone at dinner that night with Jesus washing everyone’s feet. I would have been so enamored, so awestruck, that I would be stricken mute. Looking down at Jesus washing my feet. I probably would have sat there grinning at him like an idiot not knowing what else to say or do. Feeling humbled, proud, confused, and probably a little nervous.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about the inevitability of the cross—the inertia of the cross, as Jesus was drawn ever closer. And now, the time has come.

Jesus knew that he CAME from God and he knew WAS GOING back to God. He had been saying it over and over to the disciples, but they weren’t hearing him. So, he got up from the dinner table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and started washing feet. It certainly made an impression and shook the disciples out of their complacency. Jesus sets an example for all of us and he does this through his actions.

And what happens next is also curious. Jesus knows what Judas is going to do, but he doesn’t stop him. Jesus knows that Judas will betray him. But Jesus, NEVER prohibits the CHOICE of another. Jesus NEVER thwarts the free will of another person, And so, Judas betrays and the inertia of the cross pulls Jesus a little closer.

In the midst of all this, with the breaking of bread, the sharing of wine, the washing of feet, Jesus is basically saying, “Don’t you get it, guys? I am your Teacher and Lord. I have set an example. None of us is greater than our Creator, but we are blessed if we love one another because relationship is primary. I am leaving soon. So I’m leaving you with a new commandment, which is this: Love one another as I have loved you.”

And with that, the kingdom sprang up around the sandals of Jesus, as he took off alone, into the Garden to pray. The disciples may have fallen asleep, unable to join Jesus that night, but we have another chance. We have an opportunity right now to take a walk with Jesus into the next few days of the Triduum: of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and into Easter, and it will certainly be a walk in kingdom territory.

Blessing for Holy Thursday
As if you could
stop this blessing
from washing
over you.

As if you could
turn it back,
could return it
from your body
to the bowl,
from the bowl
to the pitcher,
from the pitcher
to the hand
that set this blessing
on its way.

As if you could
change the course
by which this blessing
flows.

As if you could
control how it
pours over you,
unbidden
unsought
unasked

yet startling
in the way
it matches the need
you did not know
you had.

As if you could
become undrenched.

As if you could
resist gathering it up.
in your two hands
and letting your body
follow the arc
this blessing makes.