Updated: Apr 28
We have come to the end of Lent. This evening we begin what is called the Triduum, the three Holy Days, ending in Easter Sunday. Lent can mean so many different things to each of us. Some might take it quite seriously. Others, like a certain trio of teenagers that are related to me, consider Lent the time where once a week on a Wednesday evening, they eat dinner with friends, listen to music, they pack lunches for the homeless or write cards for parishioners, but mostly they have fun. And too much sugar. By the time I wrangle the three, or four if we brought a friend, of them into the car, they are best described as hyped up. The chatter in the car on the drive home can only be described as chaotic and hilarious. One time they had me in tears, impersonating their teachers. Because apparently one of them shared the same problem my beloved philosophy teacher had. Herr Vogel was a very enthusiastic and dynamic teacher. He moved around a lot in front of the class, gesticulated wildly. Sometimes he would even sing and dance! But his classroom always reminded me of the church pews on Sundays, the front row was always empty… See, Herr Vogel had a way of spraying words instead of saying words, a lot. And teenagers are surprisingly finnicky about these things, considering the smell of their rooms sometimes. After I wiped away my tears of laughter that evening, Herr Vogel, my philosophy teacher, kind of stayed fresh in my mind for a while. I think we all have or had teachers that have that profound impact on us. And as we were approaching Maundy Thursday, I was reminded of a paper we once had to write for him. “What would you do if you only had three days to live?” We had studied Socrates whose philosophy it was that life was only worth living if you knew yourself, examined yourself. “Know thyself” is a well-known philosophical tenet. Herr Vogel explained that thinking about what you would do, if you only had three days left to live, would tell you a lot about yourself. About your priorities, about your values, about who you love and care for, about what you want your life to stand for. That’s very heady stuff for a teenager, and to be honest, I do not really remember what I wrote in that paper back then. But I do remember that question. It keeps coming up from time to time. Not in a morose way, but in a “let’s take inventory” kind of way. What are my priorities right now? My values? Who do I love and care for? What does my life stand for? Because it’s Maundy Thursday, let’s add this question: What am I willing to die for?
Jesus answered all these questions, not with words, but with one act. One act of loving service. Jesus washed feet. Jesus and the disciples are gathered together for supper in Jerusalem. They are a fairly large group. I imagine their conversations that evening being very lively. They had a long and eventful day. Sharing impressions of the city of Jerusalem, some of them are here for the first time. Sharing encounters they had that day, what do the people of Jerusalem know about their movement? Do they know and share their hope in the messiah? What is going to happen next? The excitement in that room must have been palpable, the atmosphere rife with hopeful expectations and trepidations. In the midst of that, Jesus gets up from the table. I imagine everyone turned their head in anticipation toward him. What happens next is one of my very favorite images from the scriptures. Jesus takes off his outer robe and he ties a towel around himself. He takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. I know we all want to get to the next part, but I want us to stay a moment right here, with this image. Jesus, knowing full well what is to come, Jesus knowing that he only has three days left to live, takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. This man is getting ready to work! His response to the questions what are my priorities, my values, who do I love and care for, what does my life stand for, what am I willing to die for, all answered in this one image: a man getting ready for work, for labor. This labor is his priority, this labor encompasses all his values, this labor is what he is willing to die for. With three days left to live, Jesus washes feet. He kneels in front of his disciples, pours the water over hot and dusty feet, uses the towel tied around his waist to dry them off. This labor is a labor of love. A love so complete, so all-encompassing, so consuming, that to do it justice one must use one’s entire being, body, mind, and soul. Love is an action, a verb, and it is our command from Jesus. It is what he gave his life for. “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another”. If we are to love, just as Jesus loved, we must be ready to labor alongside with him. This is no sentimental exercise, there is work to be done! There are people to feed, prisoners to visit, refugees to clothes, there are people on the fringes of our society that still wait to be included, there are so many feet to wash!
Jesus’ final act of love towards his disciples, his last act before his arrest, his choice of what to do with only three days left to live, was a physical act of service. This physical service of love is our command. To serve God, is to embody Jesus on earth.
Saint Teresa of Avila, a woman I deeply admire, knew just how to word it in this beautiful poem:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which He blesses the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
This evening, as we begin the Triduum, as we commemorate this profoundly loving last act of service, let us take inventory: Let’s think on our priorities and values. About all the people we love and care for. What does our life stand for? What are we willing to die for? Where are we led to serve, body, mind, and soul?