Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday: The Uncomfortable Intimacy of Jesus

Holy Week is a journey to the cross and beyond ... and every day is a different step. This week, I'll be offering a reflection for each step of the journey for us as a Cathedral community.

History tells us that tonight’s 6 pm Maundy Thursday service will be the lowest-attended major religious observance of the year at Christ Church Cathedral. The choir and vested ministers will probably outnumber those sitting in the congregation.

I always hope it will be different, but I’m never surprised when it isn’t. Because tonight’s liturgy invites us into deep intimacy not just with God in Christ but with each other in Christ.

Intimacy that makes us vulnerable.

Intimacy that can be really scary.

Intimacy that we at once crave and yet leaves us so fearful of rejection.

Tonight we hear the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and then telling us to do the same to each other.

Our feet are some of the most intimate and personal parts of our bodies. There’s a reason that “feet” are a euphemism for genitals in the Bible (Ruth didn’t really uncover Boaz’s “feet” on the threshing room floor). Because touching each other’s feet is an act of deep intimacy – whether it’s playing footsie under the table at a restaurant or giving someone a foot massage after a long day at work.

In one of my favorite movies, Bull Durham, the scene that was voted one of the 10 all-time most romantic bedroom scenes by Harlequin – 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 a shot of what can’t be more than 15 seconds when Kevin Costner is sitting on Susan Sarandon’s bed, gently holding her foot in his lap and with a loving, even slightly impish smile on his face, painting her toenails.

We don’t allow just anyone to touch our feet. And why would we? The science of reflexology tells us we experience pressure on different points on the foot in places all over our body. Our feet are literally a gateway to our entire body – inside and out.

And yet Jesus picks this act – washing each other’s feet – as our model for relationship.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus says to his disciples, his hands still dripping with water.

“Do you know what I have done to you?”

The relationship Jesus calls us into in the Church is not a relationship of quick smiles and firm handshakes or even friendly hugs. It is a relationship of footwashing. A relationship of intimate touch.

And that’s scary.

It’s scary because our experiences of intimate touch are not always good and safe … in fact they have often been quite bad.

It’s scary because we have deep body image issues – we have such trouble believing that these bodies, created in God’s image, are beautiful and good. In fact, we look at ourselves – at our feet – and we see just the opposite. And so the last thing we want to do is show them to somebody else. That’s just asking for rejection.

It’s scary because there is such deep power in the simple act of washing another’s feet and having our own feet get washed that it can be overwhelming … and we can be afraid of what would happen if we were touched that profoundly in a public setting like church.

And so we stay away. Our attendance figures tells us we would rather walk the way of the cross than touch each other’s feet.

I don’t say this in any way to shame us. For one, shame is profoundly unhelpful. But more than that, this is about naming, not shaming.

If tonight is once again a mostly empty nave, it will be a reminder that we – not just we as a Cathedral community but we as Americans and, frankly, we as white, Western society, have deep issues with intimacy. We glorify the rugged individualist. We see asking for help as weakness. We compulsively apologize for our tears.

Tonight is a reminder that the communion Christ calls us into is one of deep intimacy. It is a communion of one who loved the world so much he was willing to suffer deeply and die naked nailed to a cross rather than stop loving so profoundly.

Tonight is a reminder that what Christ really calls us into is the same kind of relationship with each other that he longs for with us. A relationship of knowing fully and being fully known. A relationship of safe, intimate touch – touch that we are willing to risk because we have spent the time building relationships of trust with each other.

Christ calls us to love one another as he loved us. And how he loved us is washing our feet. And the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our ability to do the same.

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