Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, and I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen.

We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but he is fully present now, and his love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in his eyes. It reminds me of how the poet prophet Isaiah describes him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the center of the table. Later he will tell us the wine is his blood poured out, and the bread his body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord.

Then Jesus sets aside his outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks.

“Give me your feet,” he says.

We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say–what to do–faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, his own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as he worked.

He sure knows how to make a mess of things.

When he gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as he reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him.

He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” he says to me.

“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say.

He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed.

He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” he asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

Act like it, and live a blessed life.

Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When he is done with you, you are washed as white as snow.

It wasn’t too long after that last meal that he left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with his Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as he leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’

I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travelers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to his servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands.

Scripture references taken from Isaiah. 53:3, NKJV and John 13:12-17, The Message.

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

It had been a long day. Not long because I had crammed one activity after another into a very small window of time, but long in the tangible way I had felt every hour pass. Even though I arrived late to pick up my son from track practice, his older brother and I ended up having to wait for him to come out of the building. As he opened the van door, pitched his backpack into the van, and hopped onto the seat, I skipped my customary “Hi, how was your day” greeting. My mind was too harried to bother with perfunctory courtesies.

I swerved into the exit lane of the school driveway, but just then a man walking alongside a bicycle stepped into the crosswalk. He appeared to be talking to himself. At the precise moment when my car stopped to wait for him to pass, he turned and saw me. Now he was coming back toward the van. Oh no, not today, I thought. But yes, today was the day, and it has now become to me an act of mercy and life-altering grace that I will never forget.

I rolled down my window, lowered the radio volume so he wouldn’t hear the Christian music playing, and fixed my face with an impassive look that I hoped would indicate an absence of hostility but also a need to finish quickly whatever our interaction would be.

When he came to the window, I was expecting him to start explaining what he needed. But instead, he handed me a piece of notepaper that I could see was about half full of writing. As I started to read, he began saying something that I couldn’t quite make out, but I could tell he was probably hearing impaired. His note basically related that he was new in town, didn’t have a place to stay, had no friends or family in the area, and hadn’t eaten in three days. He concluded with a simple request for money to buy food.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the experience, I realize that should have been my first clue that something unexpected was about to happen. Even with all his apparent needs—without a home, physical and perhaps cognitive impairments, hunger, no family—he had narrowed his request down to one thing: I’m hungry. Can you help me get some food? I see this now for what it was: raw humility.

I looked up from the note and explained that I didn’t have any cash. Usually I at least have some loose change in my ashtray or the well in the driver side door, but not today. So being satisfied that I had dispatched my obligation as best I could, I apologized for being unable to help and began rolling my window back up. Unlike other people in his situation I’ve met before, he didn’t look angry, nor did he become aggressive. He took the note back from me, smiled, and started walking back in the direction he was originally going.

As I pulled out onto the road, I said to my sons, “I really need to start carrying some cash so I can help when situations like this come up.” They both mumbled, “Yeah,” and I could hear in their voices that surly cynicism people get when they hear someone say something that they knew would quickly be forgotten. They were right. I had said this before.

But this time it felt different.

Continuing in the vein of my day, I started mentally processing what had just happened. Unsolicited, I heard and felt God’s whisper in my heart, saying, “You don’t have any cash, but you can still give him something to eat.”

Duh, of course … I did have my debit card! In a flash, it hit me with such intensity that it came bursting out of my mouth without me really intending it to. “Hey, I have a card!” I shouted.

Now my sons were energized too. They both sat up straighter in their seats and started looking for a place we could stop and buy our stranger something to eat. At the same time, we all spotted the Burger King to our left. In my new excitement and haste to rectify my original un-helpfulness, I swung the van into the turn lane and practically skidded into the BK drive-thru line. We were all thinking the same thing: we needed to hurry because he might not be in the near vicinity for too long. My sons both started yelling things we could order, and we settled on grilled chicken, fries, and a sprite. We figured if he hadn’t eaten in three days, his stomach might be sensitive, so grilled rather than fried seemed to fit the bill. I also was price conscious because my own finances were pretty slim.

After we ordered and paid, we started looking for him. Panic began to rise as we scanned the street in front of us and the sidewalk on both sides and didn’t see him.

“There he is!”

My younger son spotted him in the parking lot of a corner convenience store where he appeared to be talking with another driver about his plight. I made a half u-turn into the store parking lot and pulled up beside our friend. When he shifted on his feet to face us, I could see on his face a flicker of recognition, but just shy of familiarity. My older son was closest to him, so I handed the bag of food to him and he reached out the window. A look of sheer surprise spread over the man’s face. Clearly he couldn’t believe we were back. My son handed him the bag, and tears welled up in the man’s eyes.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you so much, and God bless you,” the man said. We blessed him back and pulled off.

I knew what had just happened, but I also knew something else had happened. That simple hand-off of food had ushered something “other” into our midst. A hush fell over all three of us, and my spirit bore witness that the interior of my van had been transformed into holy ground. The presence of God was overwhelming. Tears started running down my face, and I saw that my younger son was struggling to hold back the tears that sat pooled right behind his eyelids. Finally he said, “Gosh, he was so grateful … poor guy.”

I heard what my son said, but I also heard someone else speaking: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me. Thanks for feeding Me when I was hungry.” Then again: “When you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord. Thanks for the loan; I’ll pay you back.”

I was speechless. On a day when I felt the burden of so much of my own need, and was almost near the edge of panic about my own money situation, the Lord Himself visited my little tribe and gave us an opportunity to see Him, and to be blessed not just by Him but with Him. God was there as real as I’ve ever experienced Him. I saw Him in the man’s unashamed humility, his open gratitude, his peaceful demeanor despite what had to be a grinding existence, and his ready forgiveness of my earlier rejection. This man may indeed be a pauper by earthly standards, but he was just as sure a prince by eternal standards. In that simple act of obedience, I had received so much more than I had given.

Since my meeting him that day, now more than a month ago, I have thought of him every day and prayed for him when I thought to do it. He makes me wonder how many times, in our harried and distracted living, we miss the opportunity to see Jesus because we don’t recognize Him when we see Him.

Our cities and urban areas are full with people who need to be fed, clothed, comforted. But I believe we pass Him by because of the “distressing disguise” in which he appears to us. Run-down tenements, trash-strewn alleys, and overrun housing projects are not usually our idea of heavenly places. But heaven is where Jesus is, and I think maybe He’s waiting for us to realize that truth.

I almost wish I could see my hungry friend again, just so I could thank him. Through his humanity and his need, he gave me a glimpse of Someone I desperately needed to see. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.

Marriage and Relationships 101: Pray it, Don’t say it

Marriage and Relationships 101: Pray it, Don’t say it

You never do anything nice for me!

 When is the last time you bought me a gift?!

You never spend time with me anymore!

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? Perhaps they bring back a memory of an argument you and your significant other recently had?

The argument begins with something small, escalates into a blame game, and before you know it, you don’t remember what you were originally arguing about. I will be the first to say that I have been down this road many times. And, as a seasoned traveler of this road, I am here to tell you that no one feels good after these arguments.

Everyone sometimes feels hurt, confused, and worthless, like they are not good enough for their partner, like they deserve better, or whatever other unhappy feeling you want to “insert here.” Nobody wins.

As humans, we are selfish by nature. We are born selfish. In fact, selflessness is a trait that we have to learn over time. Naturally, we think “me, me, me.”

“What do I need? What do I want?”

This way of thinking transfers over into our relationships if we aren’t careful. We begin to think about whether or not our spouse has met our needs, instead of thinking about how we can meet their needs. And, if we think our needs haven’t been met, we feel it is our duty to tell our spouse about how they aren’t meeting our needs and that they should “do better.”

This may result in myriad reactions: your spouse becomes defensive, your spouse spits back what needs of theirs you aren’t meeting as well, your spouse feels worthless, your spouse shuts down, or your spouse apologizes and actually “does better.”

Unfortunately, the latter is less likely to happen. What is likely to happen is an argument that escalates quickly – leading to both parties feeling hurt, angry, or even resentful.

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words ( Proverbs 15:28).

I imagine that if you and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and I were sharing this with you, you would respond with, “But, you don’t understand my wife/husband! They don’t do (insert complaint here)! I need to tell them how they aren’t treating me the way I deserve to be treated!”

I would respond by asking the following: “Is telling your partner about themselves helping anything? No? Well, have you prayed about it, instead?”

Pause.

Pray about it? Yes, pray about it. God calls us to be bringers of peace to our relationships and to avoid conflict. Remember that the power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

Every time we are complaining about our partners, we are speaking death to our relationships. We have the power to bring life to our relationships with our tongues instead. We can do this through prayer and by speaking direct words of affirmation over our significant others.

Next time you are tempted to tell your spouse what they “need to do” for you, try affirming them in that very area you feel as though they are lacking.

For example, instead of saying, “You never take it upon yourself to do the laundry. Why can’t you do more to help out around here?” Say, “Thank you so much for all that you do to keep our house in order. I appreciate you!”

Those powerful words just spoke the actions into your spouse that you wish to see more often. Then, in your private prayer time, ask The Lord to show your partner how important it is to you that he or she pitch in around the house.

God cares about the small details. And, He will honor you for coming to Him instead of igniting a quarrel in the relationship.

After praying, serve. Serve your spouse. Remember, that is what God calls us to do in our marriage. Marriage is just two people who are servants in love.

If you are wondering how you are supposed to serve your spouse, it is written right here in Colossians 3:18-19:

 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting with the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

When you serve your spouse, you fill them up with the love of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and when we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, our relationships will result in less conflict.

Friends, marriage and relationships are hard work. It takes hard work to decide to be selfless every day. It takes hard work to serve your spouse when it is very possible that your own needs haven’t been met.

It takes work to pray for your spouse when you’re in the heat of an argument. It takes work to choose NOT to say something the next time you feel frustrated or conflicted. But, that work is so worth it. Take it from someone who’s been there.

I used to choose the selfish route. Now, I choose the selfless route. And, as a result, I am more in love with my husband today than I was when I married him.

 

Why is Revelation Scary?  (It shouldn’t be for believers!)

Why is Revelation Scary? (It shouldn’t be for believers!)

Why is Revelation Scary?
(It shouldn’t be for believers!)

There are a ton of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and misreadings of Revelation that are extremely popular, which makes it even more difficult for believers to understand what the book means and why it is important. It is the final book of the Bible, the last book written, and in some senses one of the most important books in shaping Christian theology and history, so why are we so afraid to read it?

Revelation is the only true and full apocalypse in scripture. Apocalypse comes from a Greek word meaning “unveiling” or “revealing” which is where we get our English word “Revelation.” Despite the popular rendering there is no “s” at the end of Revelation, because it is meant to be read as a single uncovering or vision of the truth of Jesus Christ and the ultimate judgment and redemption of humanity on earth.  

Why is it so different than other New Testament books?

Part of the fear comes from Revelation’s unique content in the New Testament. For a modern reader who has navigated through the straightforward stories in the Gospels, the careful theological explanations of Paul, and the memorable words of encouragement from the other letters of the New Testament, arriving at revelation is confusing. Where did all this stuff about beasts, judgments, and visions come from? We were just reading about being good teaching and being encouraged! 

Is it symbolic?

Another reason Revelation scares people is because its contents are largely symbolic visions. The visions are explained in the scriptures themselves in many cases, but in many cases they are mysterious. We like clarity, not mystery! But the ancient Jewish and Gentile audiences hearing or reading this Revelation didn’t have the same issue with mystery. We do not have to read far into the prophetic books of the Old Testament to see Revelation is part of a tradition of visions and mystery that is very much in line with the rest of the Biblical prophets. In fact, Revelation directly draws much of its imagery from Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and others. The interpretation of some parts of Revelation in its context is still debated just as the interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies were debated in the New Testament, Jewish tradition, and even today. 

Is it about the end of the world?

But the last reason Revelation is so scary to most people is probably the most widespread: its subject. But even that is misunderstood. Most people think about Revelation as the book about the end of the world. The ultimate judgment of God. The pictures of heaven and hell. Some of those things can be found in Revelation. But the pictures we have seen made popular of heaven with winged angels, clouds, and an old white man with a long beard are not Biblical. The images of hell with fire, pitchforks, and red demons dancing around are not Biblical. Much of that imagery comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy (more commonly known because of Dante’s Inferno), which wasn’t written until hundreds of years after the Bible and was a work of fiction. There are intense images of “heaven” in Revelation, including the throne room of God, the lamb slain from the foundation of the earth, and even New Jerusalem. But the end of the book contradicts much of what people think about heaven. In the end, heaven is not focused on us getting mansions, but all the universe worshipping the Lord. And the Kingdom of God is not us living eternally away from earth, but heaven uniting with earth and God with humans in an eternal city.  The images of “hell” are also not what we expect. Hell is pictured as the underworld where the dead rise from to judgment, a never-ending pit where the devil can fall for a thousand years, a figure that is judged itself along with “death and the grave”, and the most popular image of the Lake of Fire where Satan and his followers are eternally tormented. The scriptures don’t explain many details about what this lake is like; simply that it is burning with fiery sulfur. Satan is definitely not in charge there, there are not demons playing, and no horns or pitchforks mentioned at all. 

Why should we not be afraid as believers?

But in order to know why Revelation should not be scary for believers at all we need to simply read the first and last chapters. Revelation tells us how we should react in Revelation 22:10-11 says:

 10 And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. 

11 He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

This was written almost 2000 years ago. The warning then was to not even seal up the Revelation so that people could read it quickly. And when they heard it, it may not change their behavior. It was meant to encourage those who were following Jesus. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is like the Gospel of John, it is meant to give believers hope by revealing God’s eternal purposes, not to scare us. Revelation is not simply a book of future prophecies. It describes through metaphors the birth of Jesus, the rebellion of Satan, and the deception of humanity right alongside battles, judgments, and the eternal city to come.

For us it can also serve as an important encouragement and part of our faith. The first century readers who were hearing it felt persecuted. They had waited for Jesus to return for decades at that point and didn’t know what to do next. They were beginning to lose hope and question their faith as we hear made clear in the first two chapters with the letters to the seven churches. And the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to them to remind them that God had everything under control. Jesus will return. Justice will prevail. Wickedness will be punished. Satan will be defeated. People will be united. The dead will rise. The Lord will dwell with humanity. The will of God is being done behind the scenes even when we can’t see it. Our God is in control of everything, and all we have to do is be faithful to Him. It is now revealed that Jesus Christ will overcome our temporary situations ultimately, but for now we can hold onto this encouragement that He is faithful to do everything He promised.