My brother recently texted me some old family pictures of him and me when we were kids—I think my family was going through old photo albums, digitalizing a few—and there is the assorted variety of us when as little kids we are dressed up for the school holiday program, playing on the swing set, or accompanied by long-since-gone family pets. Perhaps most quintessential of all is the bathtub shot. It seems that many parents find it necessary to get that pic. Is it to capture the moment of a joyful childhood? Or is it purposeful to use for leverage and/or coercion later in life? Or both? For whatever reason, in this particular picture my little brother and I as well as our younger cousin are all playing together in the bathtub surrounded almost to our necks in bubbles, smiling, happy, seemingly carefree, certainly without embarrassment. There is a contemporary social media custom to post such photos on Thursdays, “Throwback Thursday” it is called; and the washed out colours of late ‘70’s early ‘80’s photography along with the sentimental setting of childhood would certainly be fitting as a throwback. Nonetheless, modesty prevents me, as well as threats from my cousin, so we’ll just have to leave this Throwback Thursday memory limited and shared as explained here.
Modesty!? Is it simply decorum, the ways in which we have ordered our lives and the customs we’ve inherited that make certain common practices and everyday elements private and personal? Or is there something else? I wonder this not so much to gain an answer as to simply observe and state what we so often—certainly myself!—take for granted. Nor do I ask this to argue against it. Mostly, I’m all for modesty, decorum, orderliness. I’d say we could use a lot more of it in our world. But I wonder if at times it hinders intimacy, intimacy both among us and between us and God?
Our gospel lesson for today, Maundy Thursday, presents its own kind of throwback Thursday picture of Jesus serving as an example, demonstrating in his own person, the actions of service and love. Washing the disciples feet the image of basin and towel has been incorporated into the church’s symbology and vernacular. And rightly this day exhorts the commandment to love as we’ve been loved by Christ. It seems we can even easily acclaim Jesus’s humility, the master humbling himself to wash the servant’s feet. And we can also readily celebrate and attest the need for the church to “get its hands dirty”. But do we actually allow ourselves to enter into the intimate spaces God creates for us? Often, I think not. Or at least, not for too long, or too much.
I’m feeling myself being pretty preachy right now. And maybe these are just some of my issues. All may be true.
Yet it seems as though one of the most pervasive elements of Holy Thursday is the intimacy of Jesus washing our feet. And intimacy is often uncomfortable. Still intimacy seems to be central to Christ’s incarnation and our union with Christ. God touches us.
In recent years on Maundy Thursday my congregation joins with a neighboring congregation sharing worship and communion. We also observe the ritual of foot washing. Not too much of it, mind you. That would be entirely too uncomfortable for most everyone. Rather, the two ministers wash the feet of one of their parishioners, therefore only four persons are directly involved. Yet, to be involved can be incredibly moving, even to tears. It is incredibly intimate. Much of what we do in the church is often cerebral. Others react to that with emotionalism. But I wonder if we simply need awareness of intimacy, to be open to God’s touch?
I close with “A First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle.
God did not wait till the world was ready, till nations were at peace. God came when the heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release. God did not wait for the perfect time; God came when the need was deep and great. God dined with sinners in all their grime, turned water into wine.
God did not wait till hearts were pure. In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt. To a world like ours, of anguished shame, God came, and God’s Light did not go out. God came to a world which did not mesh, to heal its tangles, shield its scorn. In the mystery of the Word made flesh, the Maker of the stars was born. We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!