God’s Longing – Br. Todd Blackham

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

It seems like we’re so far from where this whole thing started.  So far from those days beside the lake tending the nets.  So far from that invitation to come and see.  But the decisive moments we mark this night go back much further even than that.

In a wonderous and mysterious way this night has been present to God from the very beginning when the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This night and the days of this Holy Triduum usher us into the fullness of God’s time in which these pivotal actions are always wholly present.  We return to make this remembrance; to do more than flip the pages of a scrapbook and recall fond memories, but to truly re-member, to re-present Jesus here, to encounter the real and living presence of Christ.

We timebound creatures are forgetful and eternal God holds all time in hand.  As our lives continue their meandering way we are given these precious gifts by which to return and to dwell in the love of God.

Do you know what I have done to you?

The table was set for that familiar meal, but Jesus offered new words, “This is my body, and this is my blood.”  These are a new covenant and they are to do the remembrance of me.  With them you proclaim my death until I come.  Such a quizzical thing to say.  Impossible for them to understand in the moment?  We still have trouble unravelling the depth of what this meal truly is, but it remains a precious gift to those who are drawn to Christ, a constant reunion and renewal.

And, God incarnate was not done yet.  This precious pledge of eternal life was but one gift he offered this night.  As he got up from the table he utterly confounded and scandalized his simple disciples.  The washing of feet was commonplace enough in both Greek and Jewish culture.  Water and a basin at least would have been provided for guests to take care of their inevitably dusty feet.  Or else, a servant, a household slave, would have been set to the task.  Peter’s shock at his Rabbi’s action is extreme.  These two little Greek pronouns jammed together YOU! me? They highlight how far Jesus has stooped to approach his disciples like this.

Allow yourself to be scandalized again at what Jesus is doing as though he were approaching your own feet.  What act of service would shock you?  Can you imagine coming home to find your spiritual director scrubbing the tile in your bathroom?  Or a favorite teacher doing your laundry.  The choir director and the coach cleaning the baseboards in the kitchen.  The head of your department vacuuming under the couch.  A mentor making your bed.

Shocking, uncomfortable, even embarrassing.  But this is Jesus, who being in the very form of God didn’t consider equality to God as something to be clung on to.  He emptied himself taking on the form of a slave.  It was a short distance to go from the table to his disciples’ feet that night, but it was an approach that had begun long ago from the beginning of all creation.

One fifth century bishop described it this way: “He who is “clothed in light as in a robe” was clad in a cloak; he who wraps the heavens in clouds wrapped round himself a towel; he who pours the water into the rivers and pools, tipped some water into a basin. And he before whom every knee bends in heaven and on earth and under the earth, knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.” Severian of Gabala (Syria) 5thC.

Do you know what I have done to you?

Peter could hardly bear to accept it at first.  And he could hardly know that soon he would indeed deny that love.  It was a long way for Jesus to come in such humility.  And it would have been one thing for Jesus to be met with open arms, gratitude, and reciprocal love.  But what he knowingly encountered was betrayal, denial, doubt, and suspicion. Betrayal and denial are the great relationship destroyers.  Who would fault a person for distancing themselves from someone who had cheated on them, abandoned them?  In our broken lives we’ve all experienced these kinds of injuries, in one form or another.  But it was God’s will that Jesus should come to encounter and to heal the wound of sin that “so hinders the human heart’s capacity to accept love.” (Rule, Ch. 21)

Do you know what I have done to you?

Our rule of life describes the trouble we may have, like Peter, receiving this kind of love: “As the Spirit exposes (that wound) to Christ’s healing touch in prayer, we shall often have to struggle with our reluctance to be loved so deeply by God.  Christ himself will strive with us, as the angel strove with Jacob, to disable our self-reliant pride and make us depend on grace.” (Ch. 21, The Mystery of Prayer)  And so Jesus has stooped to strive with us insisting that he be allowed to wash our feet against our protestations.

What force compels the God of the universe to do such things?  Choosing this kind humility does not come from a desire for power or control.  It’s not some masochistic impulse either.  Rather, the self-giving love of God is revealed in the prodigious lengths to which Jesus went to come to us.  There is a word that has come to define for so many this kind of drive and desire.

“Longing”

That deep ache that so many of us feel now as we are hindered from being near the ones we love.  The yearning that drives us to tears.  Inward groans too deep for words until we can be reunited with each other and with God.

Jesus has moved heaven and earth out of the profound longing of God’s heart to be reunited with us.  To serve us in great humility.  And that longing persists especially now as we make this remembrance calling us to renew our love and channel our longing to the love of God and to one another.

There are so many with whom we are aching to break bread.  So many whose feet we long to wash.  We re-member what it’s like.   And in these acts we call all of you into this present moment with God.  For you whose longing has brought to you watch these acts, to pray along with us, can you re-member the acts of God’s loving mercy that have been showered upon you?  When you eat and drink can you taste the goodness of the Lord again?  When you bathe, can you allow yourself to receive the tender love of God afresh in your longing.  For as much as we in our human limitation can feel that deep pull, how much more so has God matched and surpassed us in indefatigable, longing love?

Do you know what I have done to you?

You who are near and you who are distant, what is your longing?  That longing is but the smallest drop of God’s unfathomable longing for us.  Through time, through distance, through denial, betrayal, doubt and suspicion, the love of God has brought Jesus on his knees to our road-weary feet.  And he asks us to turn our longing into love like his. We love, and we long, because he first longed for us.

Do you know what I have done to you?

I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jer. 31-3)  Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine.  (Isaiah 43:1)

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Beloved in Christ, now is the acceptable time; even now, on the night he was handed over to suffering and death.

Support SSJE


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.

Click here to Donate

Leave a Comment