"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Friday, April 10, 2009 Maundy Thursday 2009, Christ Church Cathedral St. Louis, Missouri John 13:1-17, 31b-35
I’m a baseball nut, and one of my all-time favorite movies is Bull Durham. How many of you have seen it? OK, for those who haven’t, let me tell you a bit about it. On the surface, it seems like just a movie about minor league baseball, but really it’s about two people who are at crossroads in their life, who feel that everything that has been familiar to them and has given meaning to their lives is either slipping away or is about to be taken from them. It’s about two people who are at that time in life when you stop feeling like you’re going to live forever and you start realizing the phrase “the rest of your life” has a clock ticking inside it.
On one hand, there’s Crash Davis. Crash is a longtime minor league catcher, and baseball is his life. It’s all he’s ever known, he can’t imagine life outside it, and for as long as he can remember his dream was to play in the major leagues. And one year for 21 days … the 21 greatest days of his life … he was there. But now he’s reaching the end of the road and he finds himself not at the top – in the majors – but at the bottom, with the Durham Bulls of the Carolina League. And the only reason he even has that job isn’t because the major league club thinks he has a future, but because they think he can help the future of someone else, some new hotshot pitcher.
On the other hand, there’s Annie Savoy. Annie has always been a free spirit. She teaches at the local community college, but mostly she’s a fulltime life-long spiritual seeker who latched onto what she calls the "Church of Baseball" as one of many philosophies she has embraced and whose maxims she can spout as a way of making meaning from her life and keeping control of it. And every year, Annie chooses a player on the Bulls to be her lover/student. To “give him life wisdom and help him on his way” is how she puts it. But she’s careful never to let anyone get too close. But as the years have passed, this “religious practice” has seemed more and more empty. The meaning isn’t there any more. And she feels like she’s losing control.
What Crash and Annie don’t want to admit to anyone, much less themselves, is that they’re scared. They’re not young anymore, and remaking themselves doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun and they have no idea how they’d do it even if it did! Each in their own way, they’ve spent their whole lives keeping other people from getting too close, and while that’s helped them keep control, it’s left them facing these crossroads alone. Until…
They find each other. And at first they fight because they’re so much alike and on one level that makes them so scared of each other. But then they fall in love. And the struggle of Crash and Annie’s love is that of two proud people letting down their guards and not just admitting that they need each other but inviting the other into that space inside where they have been living alone for so many years. And when they finally do it, when they finally let down their guards and put themselves out there and let each other in and embrace each other, man it is a seismic event. The richness of the lives, the dreams, the pains, the joys that come together as Crash and Annie, well, crash into each other, man it just flows off the screen.
But where the quake really leaps off the Richter scale, where the intensity of the intimacy reaches its peak, is not in some x-rated scene that’s only on the DVD versions, but a shot of what can’t be more than 15 seconds in Annie’s bedroom, where Crash is sitting on Annie’s bed, gently holding her foot in his lap and with a loving, even slightly impish smile on his face, painting her toenails.
About 10 years ago, Harlequin asked movie critics to pick the top 10 all-time most romantic bedroom scenes, and right there on the list, right up there with the steam of Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in Body Heat, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest and even the sultry morning after of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind was Kevin Costner as Crash Davis gently, tenderly, intimately, joyfully, painting Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy’s toenails.
There’s something about the feet.
“Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”
This night we do something we do no other night of the year. We wash each other’s feet. On one level, we do it for a pretty simple reason … because Jesus set an example and told us to follow it. The Gospel reading makes that clear enough. And, usually, we primarily see it as an act of service, and yeah, sure, it is. But it is so much more than that.
I’m not sure why, but there’s something about the feet. They’re intimate and private. That’s why that scene with Crash and Annie is so powerful and that’s why this night is so powerful, too. I really don’t know why it is. Maybe it’s because for most of us our feet bear the weight of our lives. You don’t just let anyone give you a foot massage … and I’ve had a pedicurist tell me that their job often is more like a bartender than anything else, they spend so much time listening to people’s problems.
Washing feet is not just about an unpleasant, humbling task and it’s certainly not just about podiatric hygiene. It’s about letting what happened between Crash and Annie happen among us. About letting our guards down and letting each other into our lives in an intimate way. It is literally putting ourselves, the weight of our lives, in each others’ hands. That’s why Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” It’s not about washing feet. It’s about saying “Unless you let your guard down, let go of your fear, let go of everything and let me in, you can’t experience who I am and what I bring.”
And it’s no accident that Jesus does this immediately after his last supper with his friends, the moment of the first Eucharist. Because both the Eucharist and the footwashing are different ways of saying the same thing. It was like Jesus, after sharing the meal said, “Let me put it another way” and began to fill the basin. Because the Eucharist is also about experiencing everything Christ is and all Christ gives by letting go and letting each other and Christ in.
Think of what happens when we gather at this table. We come forward and gather round and present our gifts --- sure, the bread and the wine and the money we offer --- but those are mere signs of something greater, what the Rite I service expresses in those beautiful words, “we offer and present unto you, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies.” That’s not about holding back and giving a little. That’s about taking all of us, the parts we usually show and especially the parts we don’t … and laying it right there on the table. And two things happen at that point.
The first is that Christ, whose life is on that table, too, sees our lives, embraces our lives and tenderly lifts them up, all our tragedies and triumphs. All our wholeness and brokenness. All our pain and all our joy. All our Crashness and all our Annieness and wraps them up with his and calls it holy and gives it back to us new.
But the second is that if we are really to enter into the Eucharist. If we are really to have a share in Christ together, it can’t be just about “me and Jesus.” And so when we gather around that table and lay our lives, “our selves, our souls and bodies,” tragedy, triumph, wholeness, brokenness, pain, joy, Crashness and Annieness on the table, if we’re doing it right, Jesus ain’t the only one who sees it … we all see it, too. I see yours and you see mine and we all see each others’. And then as we leave the table fed with new life, we have the opportunity truly to be the Body of Christ. Because having gazed on the holy chaos of each others lives, we can take each others’ lives gently into our laps and cleanse them, kiss them, even paint their toenails … but mostly just be with them. See each other for who we really are, and just BE with each other.
That means the Eucharist is more than just a personal filling station … though it can certainly be that, too. It means the Eucharist is nothing less than a vision of God's future. We heard in the Epistle reading a few minutes ago the first record we have of the church’s Eucharistic practice. But we really started the reading a few verses too late. If you go back and read it from verse 17, Paul talks about how as the Corinthians gather for the meal, each one needs to be willing to give precedence to the other. Everyone should be waiting on everyone else, attending to the lives of others.
A few years back, I heard Rowan Williams talk about this passage from Corinthians and our need to have peripheral vision when we come to the Eucharistic table.
He said: “When we come to the Eucharistic table, the needs of the neighbor come first. We must look sideways as well as forward, and as we see others fed we ask, 'How may I be part of Christ's feeding of them?' Because the first thing -- and sometimes the only thing -- you know of the person next to you at Eucharist is that they are Christ's guest. It is imperative to ask, 'How may I join in Christ's nourishment of them?'"
That’s about not just coming to Eucharist but living Eucharistically. And what we do here tonight, both in washing one another’s feet and sharing our lives and Christ’s at this table, is a sign of that Eucharistic life, of God’s future for this world and for this Cathedral community. A future where we aren’t just looking forward but also always looking sideways. And it is a glorious future.
It’s a future where we don’t need to hide who we are, where we don’t need to closet the parts of our lives we think others might disapprove of or not understand. Where we can share our joys and triumphs without worrying about offending and share our pain and fear without worrying about rejection. Why? Because we know the person next to us at this table is looking not to ridicule us but to be a part of Christ nourishing us too. A future where each of us can look sideways and ask that wonderful question. And like Crash and Annie, find that it is in caring for the other, being a part of Christ nourishing the other, that we find meaning, deep joy, and even love for ourselves.
And as we find that, we will naturally, enthusiastically and maybe even contagiously realize that this is WAY too good to be kept to ourselves. And we will go out into the streets and our schools and our workplaces and tell people of this new life we’ve found and we’ll bring them to the table, too. We will be the blood of Christ and Christ at this table will be the heart, drawing us to it and pumping us out and drawing us to it and pumping us out.
It is our future. And it is out there waiting for us. And there have been places in this community where that future has already been and even now is being realized. Where friendships of 30 years or 30 days give an abundance of life. Where prayer groups have sustained and even brought joy where there was nothing but pain because people have had the courage to let down their guards and actually tell people what they need prayer for. Where lecturing and debate has given way to listening and conversation. Where we have reached out in love and not fallen back in fear.
It is our future. A future that grows out of the best of our present and past. And it begins here at this table, and here at these chairs. With you and you. And me and you. And you and you. And you and you! And you, bishop, and me! Washing each other’s feet and feeding each other’s hearts. Always having that peripheral vision and asking the question as we see one another “How may I join in Christ’s nourishment of them.”
It begins like Crash and Annie, with us letting down our guards and letting each other in and discovering the joy of the embrace. It might be scary at first, but we’ll get the hang of it. And as we do it will be a seismic event that will send waves of love from this place to, well, who knows how far. And by this everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples, because we truly will have love for one another.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."