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Friday, March 25, 2016

Rituals of Holiness - Maundy Thursday (based on John 13)

March 24, 2016

            Has Jesus become a brand or a cultural-political mascot?  Theologian Michael Horton suggests as much in his Christianity Today article analyzing why people who call themselves ‘evangelical Christians’ give their votes and support to candidates who curse, advocate torture, don’t attend church, don’t confess sin, and remain unrepentant in spite of numerous divorces and affairs.  How is it that such candidates can use Jesus’ name for their own purposes and supposed Christians line up behind them and declare them to be Godly leaders?  Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California, thinks pragmatism is the reason believers tolerate and even promote for president individuals who are antithetical to ways of Jesus.  They think certain people “get things done.”
            Jesus got things done, but he also paid attention to how he did things.  He did not surrender compassionate methods to achieve Kingdom results.  Every act portrayed the new reality God was in the process of creating. 
When Jesus knelt and washed his disciples’ feet, he demonstrated life in the Kingdom of God.  We are humble before one another. We serve one another for the sake of love of the other.  Michael Horton writes, “Jesus enacts a performance parable about power.  … Taking off his out garment, he wraps a towel around his waist and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.”[i]  Horton refers back to John 10 where Jesus asserted that there is no power that takes life from him.  Rather, he lays his life down (10:17-18). 
Horton then points out that the kingdom of God is founded in blood, but not the blood of the people, the subjects.  This kingdom is founded in the shed blood of the kingdom who led through compassion and sacrifice.  This contrasts the stance of many in American politics who claim the name Jesus, but then grasp desperately for earthly power that is divisive, destructive, and temporary.  “When Christian leaders are drawn to breath-taking expression of ungodly power, it raises questions about which kingdom and which sort of king they find most appealing.”[ii]
Our practices this evening are rituals that show what sort of King has our allegiance and what kind of life will be lived when the Kingdom comes in full.  We sing in worship.  In this way, our voices are joined to one another’s so that the worship we offer comes not from me but from us.  It is a communal act that says our hearts are joined out of love for Christ and for those around us and we are one in Christ.  We are invited into mediation – quiet prayer in which we invite God to fill us.  We don’t empty ourselves for the sake of being empty.  We empty our minds of the noise of the world in order to be filled with the peace of God. 
Also we have opportunities to see the story of our faith through windows, also called icons.  There is art – creative use of photography and other mediums that invite us to see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  There is creative writing, a practice that helps us awaken our own imaginations as we pray.  Our cultural currency sways back and forth from the gut to the intellect back to the gut – head and heart.  Both matter very much, but so too does the emotion, and our imagination awakens our emotion.  The creative writing station gives voice to another part of our selves as we pray.  And then there is enactment – as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, we wash one another’s.  The story comes alive.
Finally, the offering and the receiving.  We have stones, the burdens we carry, and we drop them at the cross, offering our sins, our hesitations, our doubts to God.  We give God our mess and God takes it.  We receive from him bread – the broken body of Jesus, the removal of our sins.  We receive from him juice – the shed blood in which we have eternal life.
What do all these rituals reveal about the kingdom of God?  When we sing, when we pray, when worship through art and writing, when we wash feet and release burdens as we drop stones in a bucket at the cross, when we eat bread and drink juice, when we do all these things, what of the kingdom is seen in these experiences? 
The Kingdom is a place of space – space to be and grow in Jesus.  The Kingdom is a place of beauty.  We serve each other.  We honor and care for each other.  God is present.  There are no presumptions, no prerequisites, and no regrets because we are free and made new in Christ.  All are welcome, all are forgiven, and all have life because Jesus has made a way.  Our participation in the worship practices is one way God prepares us to live in His kingdom.  I think we’ll find that this Kingdom is richer and more joy-filled than any kingdom we might build.  How could it be otherwise?  This is the kingdom of a loving God who desires to welcome us into His embrace.

[i] M. Horton (2016) -
[ii] Ibid.

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