Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Take Me With You

Maundy Thursday Sermon
by Katie Mulligan
April 18, 2019

Scripture Readings: John 13: 1-17, 31-35

A long time ago now, I came to the church quite by accident. I came to the church because there was food and laughter and joy and love. I came to the church because nothing was right in my own life. I came to the church because the door was open and someone said “come on in.”

In the church I found people who were kind and caring and concerned for my well-being. They weren’t perfect people, and they didn’t love perfectly. And I wasn’t a perfect person and I didn’t love them back perfectly.

But a long time ago now, I came to the church. And I found an open door. And through that door I found people who had promised to live by a certain code. I found people who acknowledged that there was something bigger than themselves or their church building or even the planet. They called that something God, and they had made a promise to love and care for that life force and the Creation we were gifted to be part of. And they had made a promise to love other people as if they were their own.

As I came to know the story of the church, I began to hear stories about Jesus. Some of the stories were from the Bible and some of the stories were from people’s own lives. I heard stories of how following after Jesus’ teachings had transformed people’s lives and given them a framework to live well and to treat others as…well…to treat others as human.

As I grew in faith and came to know the community I had joined better, I discovered that people didn’t always keep those promises. And people didn’t always live up to Jesus’ teachings. And people’s lives weren’t always transformed in ways that seemed good.

I discovered that the community wasn’t about being perfect or always right or always righteous or always even loving. But it was about a trajectory. It was about a commitment to one another. It was about staying at the table, even through hard times. It was about how there was always a place at the table for me if I was willing to come through the door.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus ate supper with his disciples one last time. He sat at table with all twelve disciples, even though over the course of three years they had all irritated him mightily at one time or another. He had all twelve to dinner even though he knew that Judas had already betrayed him and would do so further. He gathered his closest twelve to himself even though he knew that Peter would deny knowing him three times before the night was over.

He stripped off his outer clothing, took a basin of water, and washed his disciples feet—just as a woman named Mary had so recently washed his feet while he sat at table. So he returned the favor by paying it forward to the men around him. Perhaps it was the woman’s gift of perfume and love and care that gave him the idea to serve his disciples. Perhaps it was her foot washing that gave him the strength and endurance to serve others on this, his last night. Perhaps it was simply that he was a man born to serve others, Son of God, set on a path of service that would lead to his early and untimely death.

We gather tonight to remember Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, Son of God, cousin of John the Baptist, brother to none and to all, sanctified, holy, yet humble enough to kneel at the dirty feet of those he taught and to wash them gently. We gather tonight to remember his last teachings on that night: none of us are greater than the other and that if we love Jesus we ought to love one another. If Jesus can wash our feet, then we ought to wash each others. That even on our deathbeds, in our final days, with our last gasping breaths, that we ought to have concern and care for one another.

We are gathered tonight as an act of love for Jesus. We are gathered to remind one another that we are called to love. We are reminded that we will be known as Jesus’ disciples by the love we bear into the world. All of the pretty words, all of the riches of the world, all of the church buildings and regalia and bells and choirs and Bibles and hymnals—all of that matters nothing against the fruit of God’s work among us: the love we bear one another. The world will know us as Christians, as followers of the Christ, by how we love.

And after he said all that, our beloved savior was taken from us by the work of our own betraying hands. He was executed for daring to see a different way of life and love. He died for little more than a few sermons, a few free meals on the lawn, some roadside healing, and a scathing lack of respect for systems and authority that dehumanized his people.

A few years ago I wrote this:

Do you feel it? Do you feel the urgency, the ambivalence, the unfinished business?

40 days of Lent 
Palm Sunday
the Last Supper
the Trial

Keeping vigil

Oh, I prefer Thomas
whose joy was tempered by
How can this be?

There is a story we read with the youth called The Ragman by Walter Wangerin. It is the story of a man who trades new clothes for old rags in the city. With the new clothes comes healing, and when the ragman puts on the old clothes he takes on the wounds of the people he trades with. At the end of the story the ragman dies, and then comes to life again--the narrator witnesses the strange sight of this man and asks for his own miracle--to be dressed by the ragman and to be healed in the act.

My colleagues weep at the end of this story when they read it, and I love them for that. But my attention is caught in the middle of the story:

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.

The narrator is drawn to follow the ragman beyond the city limits, desperate to see what happens next.

But I want time with the weeping, bleeding, drunken, sick ragman, skittering through the city on spider's legs. I want to hear the stories, I want to bring him soup, I want to see what he sees.

And I am so aware of time! It rushes by so quickly--Christ's ministry was three years only! I have been here in New Jersey now almost 13 years--how is that even possible? My children are nearly grown!

So much to be done, so many loose ends, so many things left unfinished. I wake early in the morning sometimes, overpowered by the nagging sense that I have left things undone. And I am right! This is no false anxiety--there is no end to this work, to this life, to the ever-present need of the people and world around me. And if I am honest, there is no end to my need.

A therapist once told me that the only two things an adult needs are oxygen and water, and perhaps a little food. I understand his point--but he was wrong! We cannot live by bread alone, and so there we go, skittering through the city on spider's legs, seeking love and care however we might find it.

What else could have inspired the disciples to follow Christ? What else could open the purses of the women who loved and cared for Jesus and his band of stragglers?

And now a last supper, full of tensions and unfinished business. How do we read Jesus in this last meal? Full of enough love to include Judas in the dinner, but angry enough to curse him. Intimate enough to wash their feet, distant enough to not fully explain. "I will be with you always." "I will never drink with you again in this life." Come to the garden, but you cannot come all the way. My time is ending, but please God, if it is possible, let this not be! (And was this not Peter's same plea?) The certain knowledge the disciples would betray him and his forgiveness for that, juxtaposed with his frustration that they could not stay awake in the garden to wait for his late night prayers.

So many unanswered questions! So much love not fully expressed! And now, in these last days, not enough time for farewells or last embraces. Was Mary not at the last supper, even? A last intimate moment with Mary Mag?

Could any of them move about in familiar places without thinking of Jesus in the days to come? Did his presence linger in every doorway, every meal, every habit of life?

Skitter on ahead to the death and resurrection, if you must, but I want more time with his life. I am deeply drawn to Jesus' fleshly existence--I cannot sit with his death yet. I won't be ready tomorrow, either. And by Sunday, with the trumpets sounding and the sanctuaries full of lilies, I will still be stunned at the tomb.

It is too soon. Won't you sit a while, Lord Jesus? And if you must be hurrying and skittering, take me with you.