This Lent, under the shadow of coronavirus, we are all giving up more than we anticipated. Some of us are staying inside, perhaps feeling anxious, while others work to care for the sick, and to provide food and essential services for us all. It’s a time when we need to find new ways of supporting each other, and connecting, as we thought about last week.
As we’re staying indoors at present, I thought I’d share with you some photos taken as we walked the Norfolk Coast Path a couple of years ago. It’s good to remember beautiful places we’ve been to in the past, and share them, and think about good things we’ll do, with such gratitude, again soon.
I did hear an excellent idea, especially if you have children who are missing their friends and their favourite activities….. Take a large jar, and write down on pieces of paper the names of people you want to see, and things you want to do, as they come to mind and you miss them. Make it colourful. You’ll then have a beautiful jar to look at, and a collection of things to really look forward to doing as you pull them out of the jar, one by one, when we are outside again.
We are keeping each other safe, keeping our vulnerable people and our medical people safe, by giving up our going out and doing things. This is a real act of love.
Back to our Lent series. Once again, these familiar stories and words of Jesus seem to take on an added depth of meaning as we consider them from inside – inside our homes, inside this strange time we are living through. Thank you for joining in. I hope that, by reading and praying together, we may be aware of all that connects us.
As we enter the traditional season of Passiontide, drawing closer to the Cross, we enter too, in our reading, an intense dialogue between Jesus and his friends, in which Jesus seeks to explain the terrible thing that is going to happen. To prepare them, and to show them the necessity for it.
We will touch on the themes of Way, Truth and Life here, and seek to work them into our days.
We are continuing this Lent series drawing on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.
John 13- 14
Jesus knows that the time when he will be abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then crucified, is getting close now. Knowing this, despite this, he loves them to the end. Knowing that the Father had put all things into his hands, he strips and kneels and washes their feet. He gives them bread. In doing so and by what he says, he tries to prepare his friends for what will come – must come. He does so with sadness and compassion. These are dark and difficult words. But, there is more. There is also a vision of love, service and life itself – the way of the Spirit, the Comforter. It offers them a way they can live when Jesus is no longer with them They do not want to see ahead to such a time. This next ‘I am’ saying is part of all this preparation – showing them a way forward – a way that will endure. Jesus is that way. He will remain that way, even after.
We are not there yet, though. We need to stand back a little and see more clearly
Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash his friends’ feet. This is part of the way ahead – the way of love and service. It is an instruction for how they are to live when he is gone. They are to imitate this act – and a concrete task can help us through a difficult time. It is hard for them to receive it. This kneeling and washing, acting like a humble servant, is part of the self-emptying way that Jesus is following, a small foreshadowing of the self- emptying of the cross. The way of love and life passes through the darkness of death.
No wonder it was hard to grasp. This is what glory looks like: tying a towel around your waist, a friend leaving to betray you with the taste of bread still in his mouth, being lifted up on a cross.
What might it mean for us, to know there is glory even here?
This encounter between Jesus and Judas – as he washed his feet, as he shared bread with him – has given me much to think about. I wrote about it here.
However much they did not understand, his friends did seem to grasp that he was going to leave them. That this leaving would be for their good – that it would bring them the greatest good – was beyond them. The loss of Jesus could not be but terrible in their eyes.
And so, he tries to frame it for them.
Something profoundly essential is happening – terrible as it is – that will ultimately work for the good.
This is the only way.
A spacious home
Jesus gives them a picture of what the good will be – a picture of the host going on ahead to prepare rooms, or dwelling places. This is why he must leave, to unlock the door, to get things ready, to open and air the rooms. It is a large and spacious illustration, one that would conjure up Middle-Eastern principles of hospitality and welcome…..
There is an expansion in these pictures, and a deep sense that Jesus will go to considerable pains, even to the loss of his life, to bring home the sheep, to make a place in the Father’s house. Images of hospitality abound in the other three gospels, for the kingdom – images of banquets and wedding feasts and wide tables. Here, we find these: a large and hospitable house, a generous sheepfold.
It is entirely understandable that Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Now is the ‘I am’ moment: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Can we think of a person as a destination? For that is what we are invited to do. ….
As we seek to walk along the way of love and service, we walk along with Jesus. We remember that the earliest name given to Jesus’ people was not Christians, but followers of the Way. We walk with Jesus, and with each other, on this path. That is the way.
It is Jesus who is Way, Truth and Life all. That begins to shift us to a different way of understanding what these things might be.
The reality behind it all, the reality we can trust, is love. That is why Jesus goes on ahead through what we cannot, and then comes back for us again.
The way of love is not soft, comfortable or secure. It will take Jesus to hell and back. It will take him to the very worst that can be done to a human being. This is the way that humanity will see God’s outstretched arms, and be liberated to enter abundant, overflowing life. Jesus is making the way.
Way, truth and life are here.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:14
Reflection and response
John often has parallels, patterns in his Gospel. You might like to think about Mary kneeling to anoint Jesus’ feet (see last week’s post) and Jesus kneeling before the disciples. You can use the pictures in each post to imagine what it would have been like to be there. You might like to think about what they have in common.
Consider more deeply these themes of the Passover: slavery and servanthood; a meal overshadowed by death and departing. Do these help your reading of the last supper?
I am struck by the fact that the Passover celebrates liberation from slavery, and this newly formed Passover – the Last Supper – includes a command to imitate the actions of a slave – washing feet – in free loving generosity.
It might be worth opening our minds to consider how often the plagues we see in the Hebrew Scriptures are seen as connected to oppression, inequality and injustice. That’s a big theme, and a diversion from our current study, but it may be worth noticing as we consider what kind of world we want to help make when we do emerge from our time of isolation.
How do you respond?
You will need: water, washable pens, paper, kitchen paper.
Imagine Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet. Imagine you are there, in that upper room. What do you feel at first? What do you feel at the end? You might like to paint your response.
You could use washable pens on your hands, remembering things that do not fit with the command to love. Then dip your hands in water and watch them become clean.
Thank Jesus for his loving sacrifice and his example. Thank him for the gift of forgiveness.
Remember a time when someone offered you love, and practical service. What was that like? Remember a time when you did the same for someone else.
Think of what it means to be a leader like this. Where do you have opportunities to lay aside status and simply serve?
Life and Service
In every situation today, take this as your starting point: how can I best love and serve this person, these people?
My Father’s House
Think about times you have received hospitality, and given it. What stays in your mind?
Can you expand your current practices of hospitality – even a small step?
For both of the above, we will need to adapt in our current circumstances, and consider acts of service and hospitality even that make space for people, hold patience when people are stressed or afraid, considering new forms of hospitality and connection online.
And below, we will all need to use the option for those who have difficulty getting about. We can think of ways of doing a virtual pilgrimage with friends, perhaps sharing places that have meant something to us online, and describing the experience.
We can also plan what we would like to do when the time is right.
You may wish to go on a journey with a spiritual purpose and particular destination in mind. You could travel far or go on a walking tour of local places of worship and ancient holy sites. You could use maps and photos to imagine yourself on such a journey if mobility is an issue. You can go with friends, or alone.
Take a look after the photos for another suggestion for walking the way….
These three are taken on a walk near Wandlebury Ring in Cambridgeshire.
Make a labyrinth. It could be a large one in the garden, temporary and marked with twis or stones, on a roll of paper or old sheet for indoors, or a small one on paper you could walk with your finger. Walk it prayerfully, becoming aware of the presence of Jesus with you and you make your way.
Have a look online for suggestions and resources. This might be a good project for self isolation.
In the current state of our news and social media, I think this response below is particularly relevant. I would add to it now, as we are all empowered to generate our own content, and to share stories….. what are we spreading? Is it true, loving, kind? Does it promote understanding or division?
It is also worth considering how much news we consume. It is important to be well informed, but we can so easily be sucked into relentless news coverage which leaves us feeling passive and afraid.
Be on the lookout this week for where and how you learn about the world. Look at your news sources. Consider how you listen to more personal news from friends and colleagues. Whom do you trust and believe? If you do not already do so, consider fact-checking, and reading and viewing things from perspectives that differ from your own. What do you find out?
Be particularly alert to this question: does this presentation of the facts encourage love and peace between people, or fear, hatred and hostility?
Does it help or hinder me in loving God and loving others?
Thank you for reading.
Please feel free to share any of the material you find helpful, saying where it is from.
If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop – some are taking phone orders and delivering, or order online.
Here are a few suggestions:
The publishers, BRF
Bless you. Thank you for joining me, and with each other, in this walk.