March 28, 2002
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck
Do you get embarrassed when people sing “Happy Birthday” to you? For me, this is one of the most awkward moments in a given year. I know it’s coming. All of a sudden several people disappear into the kitchen, there’s a slight hush in the air, and then out they come parading the birthday cake towards me. And then the singing starts. The familiar tune seems to take an eternity and there’s nothing you can do except sit there with a goofy smile on your face because, of course, you can’t sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I really do appreciate the effort involved and I love the gathering of family and friends. And I don’t mind the presents. It’s just that enduring the required serenade while all those people stare at me makes me a bit uncomfortable. And yet, when I’m celebrating someone else’s birthday, I’ll be the first one to belt out “Happy Birthday,” usually even adding some harmony to the ending. I enjoy making a fuss over someone else much more than I enjoy being fussed over myself.
Somehow it can be harder to let others celebrate our own lives than to celebrate the lives of others. And in the context of Maundy Thursday, it’s often harder to let others serve us, than to serve others. It can be hard to fully accept someone else’s love for us. We ask ourselves, “what’s the catch?” If someone’s going to such great lengths to please me, what am I possibly going to do in return. It can be easier to wash another’s feet than to allow our feet to be washed by another. As strange as it may sound, we often put up a bitter resistance to letting Christ serve us. Like Peter, we want to say to Jesus, “Lord, you will never wash my feet.” We may be embarrassed by the attention or feel that it’s beneath the master himself to wash our feet. But there’s another reason too: our own pride. The real obstacle to letting Christ serve us is that it demands that we put our lives in his hands. It forces us to loosen our grip on the control that we so desperately cling to and allow Christ to be Christ. And that’s a vulnerable position to be in. When we allow Christ to be Christ we’re letting him have access to our hearts, our thoughts, and our souls. It is a recognition that Christ will take our burdens and our sins and bear them up on his cross. To let Christ be Christ is to find a freedom that is otherwise impossible to know.
Allowing Christ to fully serve us does leave us exposed. Just as taking off our shoes in a public place leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable and self-conscious. In a moment, several members of the congregation will represent all of us as they have their feet washed. And we will recall the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus at the Last Supper. But even though we’re not all going to take off our shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the cold tiles, that’s the posture we need to assume when letting Christ be Christ. It’s not comfortable. Not because it’s cold but because it leaves us vulnerable. Imagine taking off your shoes and walking barefoot down Charles Street or through the food court in Towson Town Center or into your office on a Monday morning. Probably not something we’d care to experience. But to walk with Christ, we must take them off. Because to walk barefoot is to put our trust in Christ. It allows Christ to be Christ and it allows him to fully serve us. Like the stripping of the altars that takes place at the end of this service, we must be fully exposed to Christ. And in our nakedness we will be received by Jesus.
This Jesus, the one who came not to be served but to serve, bids us to let him serve us. Let him serve you. Let him wash your feet. Open yourself to Jesus and let the full transforming power of God wash over your feet. And not just over your feet but over your very soul.
© Tim Schenck 2001