Love Is His Meaning – Br. James Koester
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Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
As you know, during the year we welcome literally hundreds of guests at Emery House. They come from all over. Many come from some sort of religious background, but not all. Some come because it is their practice, others because they are curious. Some are drawn; others are sent. Some come for the quiet and silence, others for rest and healing conversation. A few find out about us from the internet and others are sent by a friend or their parish priest, while others have been long time friends of the Society. Most come to us by car, but some will fly long distances and arrive ultimately by bus.
This fall however we had a group who was more different than any other group we had previously had. This group walked, literally, to Emery House. They set out from the Cathedral in downtown Boston, and took four days of walking to get to us. They walked every inch of the way carrying their packs and bags, and in some instances, everything they owned. When they arrived some collapsed on the ground, others kept moving, afraid that if they sat down they might never get up. The previous three nights they had slept, either out in the open or on the floor of a church hall where they were fed and cheered by parishioners.
This group of pilgrims came to us from the Cathedral’s ministry to, with, by and for the homeless of Boston and in 24 hours they enriched our lives to the point that we still speak of them in awe and reverence and look forward to their return. They came both as pilgrims in search but also as people bearing gifts. What they found is only for them to say but the gifts they left continue to reveal grace and joy as each layer of tissue paper is removed, for while they came as pilgrims, they brought with them One who although perhaps unseen was palpably present, for in them and with them they brought the Lord to Emery House that day. As our Rule of Life makes clear:
It is not enough merely to offer accommodation to visitors. Our faith must
recognize the one who comes to us in the person of the guest, the stranger
and the pilgrim. It is the Lord, who has identified himself with each of his
sisters and brothers.1
In one place where they stopped for the night, members of the altar guild just happened to be present, setting up for the mid-week Eucharist. One of them offered to give the pilgrims foot massages and another disappeared into the sacristy to get the jugs, basins and towels, the same jugs, basins and towels carefully boxed up and put away each year after the Maundy Thursday foot-washing. There in the parish hall, not on a Thursday in Holy Week, but on a Monday in September they re-enacted the very thing we will do tonight: they washed the feet of the guest, the stranger and the pilgrim. Whether it was intended or an accident, it did not take long for those women, kneeling at the feet of their homeless guests, to make the connection between what they were doing that afternoon, and what they did every year on Maundy Thursday. It was by no stretch of the imagination Holy Week that day but it was an act of humble, loving service. If there was ever an act of humble, loving service, then the actions of those members of the altar guild washing the feet of their homeless pilgrims was certainly one of them.
At Emery House, their arrival was timed to coincide with a meal and after a brief pause they sat down to a feast of home-made lasagna, garlic bread, salad and cake and ice cream. It was by no stretch of the imagination anyone’s ‘last supper’ but it was a feast of love and fellowship whereby friendships were made, renewed and strengthened. If any meal at Emery House has ever been a feast of love, this was certainly one of them.
There is a lot going on tonight in this liturgy. We remember the first Passover meal which preceded the exodus, when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. We kneel once more before a basin and jug of water washing the feet of our spouse, our friend, our neighbour, our brother or perhaps someone we have never seen before and whose name we may never know. We live again the moment in the Upper Room where Jesus takes bread and wine and returns them to us as his Body and Blood. We watch sleepily through the night in the garden waiting and watching for history, not to end but to be fulfilled. There is a lot going on, but in reality it is all one. For what goes on tonight in sign and sacrament, word and action is nothing less than ‘love’. In the words of Dame Julian “love [is] his meaning”, for in bread and wine, Body and Blood, water, towel and story we see God’s meaning: love.
What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it
well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he
reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in
this, and you will know more of the same.2
Tonight, tomorrow and Saturday are one long feast for the senses as we taste, touch, smell, hear and see God’s love made manifest in bread and wine; in water and towel; in fire and oil; in word and action; in sign, symbol and sacrament. What is the meaning of all that we do these Three Days? Love is the meaning.
Julian of Norwich discovered this.
Those women kneeling before their homeless pilgrims discovered this.
And now so can you.
Tonight when someone pours water over your feet, and tenderly dries them with a towel think for a moment how much God loves you. As you stretch out your hands to receive the bread and wine, the Body and Blood, think for a moment how much God loves you. As you gather this evening in the garden waiting and watching think for a moment how much God loves you. As you kneel three times making your way in the procession to the Cross, think for a moment how much God loves you. As you wait in the dark for the rising dawn, with nothing but the tiny flicker of a candle to light your way, and listen to the story of salvation think for a moment how much God loves you. As you wait with eager anticipation for the Easter proclamation think for a moment how much God loves you.
But these three days are not just about God’s love for you. They are also about your love for God.
Julian of Norwich knew this.
Those women kneeling before their homeless pilgrims discovered this.
And now so can you.
Tonight as you pour water over someone’s feet, and tenderly dry them with a towel, think for a moment how much you love God. As you stretch out your hands to receive the bread and wine, the Body and Blood, think for a moment how much you love God. As you gather this evening in the garden waiting and watching think for a moment how much you love God. As you kneel three times making your way in the procession to the Cross, think for a moment how much you love God. As you wait in the dark for the rising dawn, with nothing but the tiny flicker of a candle to light your way, and listen to the story of salvation think for a moment how much you love God. As you wait with eager anticipation for the Easter proclamation, think for a moment how much you love God.
We have begun tonight the most solemn, the most sacred, the most holy time of the year and it is that because everywhere we look, everything we taste, everything we feel, everything we hear, everything we smell is a reminder that God loves us and we in turn are invited to love God in return.
And it all begins with a simple act of humble service with a jug of water and a towel, and with a simple meal of bread and wine. Tonight and tomorrow and Saturday we are reminded once again just how much God loves us and we in turn are invited to show just how much we love God, and it’s really quite simple. As simple as getting down on your knees and washing someone’s feet, as simple as stretching out your empty hands to receive the gift of God’s love made manifest in bread and wine.
If you want to know the meaning of all we do these days, love is the meaning.
1 SSJE Rule of Life: Hospitality, page 68
2 Dame Julian: Revelations of Divine Love
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Amen to all the postings. Thank God for your sermons and everyone’s reflections. Deeply moving and filled with love!
Thank you, dear brothers, for once again providing the such humble and healing and love-filled meditations for my Lenton journey this year.
My thanks to you, Brothers, for these Lenten teachings, and my love.
Wonderful, inspirational, awesome,Love
Thank you Br James for this wonderful focus .It is so helpful as has this time with the Brothers been on our Lenten journey/
How marvelous. thanks you James
Love is everything – thank you to all of you brothers x
I want and need to thank ALL of you for the wonderful experience during this Lenten time you have blessed me with. I gained so much from your daily lessons. I lament that I only recently have learned about you from my new church here in Wichita. Thank you for all you do and you now have new happy follower in me!!!
Thank you, Brother James. Yes, love is the reason and the Brothers do it so well!
BY GEORGE HERBERT 1593–1633
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
“Thank You” Bro James Koester, there is only one word for it – LOVE- so simple, yet so encompassing!!
Thank you, Br. James Koester,
O’ the mystery of it all – beautiful.