When I entered seminary, I was confident that I would become a hospital chaplain. In college, I had a very positive experience in a small hospital chaplaincy internship, and I thought this was the path for me. So my whole first year of seminary I eagerly looked forward to the summer for a full-fledged internship. I thought this would be a little step up from what I had done in college.
Instead it was a huge leap and huge disappointment. Not long into the program, I found I didn’t like it at all. I had an excellent teacher in a wonderful department and hospital. They weren’t the problem. I just didn’t fit. This wasn’t my path. It was the opposite of what I expected, a 180. My dream shattered. I was sad and confused. Why had I been so excited? Did I not hear correctly? Did I make a huge mistake? Should I return to seminary in the fall? If not, what in the world should I do next?
It took me several weeks to finally share those feelings with my fellow interns and teacher. I delayed so long because I was afraid. I feared revealing my not-so-calm-and-tidy inner life, my confusion, grief and crisis. I was afraid they might not take it seriously, afraid they might not listen and afraid to assert my stuff amid that of others. I was afraid to be vulnerable.
That fear feels like yesterday. Not just because it’s a clear memory, but because I’m still afraid! Today I’m in a much different place, but I have the same troubles. I’m still often trapped by fear. I still second-guess. I still delay acting, and I still distort the issues because I’m afraid. Perhaps you know what this is like.
Easter was six weeks ago. Shouldn’t I be confident in the Resurrection by now? The first disciples were far from confident. Their dream of Jesus had shattered. Seeing him alive was not an immediate fix. They often didn’t recognize him. Near the empty tomb, Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. On the road to Emmaus, two followers had a long talk with Jesus thinking he was a stranger. While fishing, others didn’t see that it was Jesus speaking to them on the beach. The frightened followers locked the doors when they gathered. Why were we so excited? Did we not hear correctly? Did we make a huge mistake? What in the world should we do now?
When Jesus appears, the disciples are terrified. Jesus says: “Peace be with you.”1 He says this over and over to reassure them. These resurrection scenes echo Holy Week as Jesus keeps reassuring his frightened followers. Our Gospel lesson today comes from the last great conversation on Maundy Thursday. Jesus speaks to his followers, frightened to be in Jerusalem where death threats loom heavily.
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. Love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends.”2 Abide can mean to remain, to stick with. Jesus says: the Father has stuck with me. I’ll stick with you. We’re in this together. So love each other. Be friends.
Jesus both reassures and instructs how to love and how to be friends. It’s Maundy Thursday. Jesus just went around washing their feet. He, the teacher, acted like a slave doing the most demeaning work. Then he says: Follow my example. Even more disturbing, Jesus says: I’m not your master; I’m your friend. You all be friends. Love one another by washing each other’s feet.
Slaves washed feet, not peers, let alone friends. But Jesus invites us to wash each other’s feet. If I let you near my feet, you could learn things I don’t want known or I’m embarrassed about. Feet show who has shouldered a lot of burdens and who has had a pampered life. Feet are dirty and stink. Jesus says wash each other’s feet?!
What might this look like beyond literal foot washing? What might it be like to share what’s messy and usually hidden? That’s a frightening question! Perhaps it’s more frightening and risky than literally washing each other’s feet. Because if you really knew me, you couldn’t possibly love me. If you love me, it’s only in part because you don’t fully know me.
That summer I served in the hospital felt like a 180 as I found I didn’t want to be a chaplain. The other turnaround, the other 180, is I risked sharing my crisis with my fellow interns. I risked showing them my feet. To my surprise and relief, they listened. They loved me. They were Jesus to me. Through them, Jesus knelt down, washed my feet and said: “I both know you and love you. I’ll stick with you to the end. I’m your friend.”
What do you fear today? Perhaps it’s about your life or that of someone else. I often don’t even know what I fear. I’m just aware I’m afraid. Jesus won’t leave us alone in our fear. He loves us too much! Jesus is here with you and me, and so are all of his friends. So risk being loved. Show your feet. Risk being a friend. Wash feet tenderly.
As we do this, amazing stuff happens. Obstacles don’t disappear, but much good comes in sharing life as friends. As we brothers say in our Rule of Life, friendship is “a means of grace” and its demands “further our conversion.”3 Live by doing 180s at least daily, turning, converting from being hidden to being seen, from fear to love.
Jesus says: Peace. I love you so very much. I’ll stick with you. Love one another. Be friends. Listen. Wash. Love.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.