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Maundy Thursday, The desire of God and the desire of our hearts

The following sermon was preached by David L. Miller, former Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation, Dean of the Chapel, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, April 5, 2007.


John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

I.

The time is late. Sunday is spent.
Toys lie scattered in the living room; soon we will gather them into the plastic clothes basket.
Rachel and Armando gather their coats and bags to go.
They put their little one, Benjamin, in his coat and pull a stocking cap over his head.
Ben pulls off the cap and throws it on the floor two or three times, as his parent's, my daughter and son-in-law, slowly make their way to the door.
Slowly. No one wants to go. We don't want them to leave.
The day has been rich and full. Stories. Catching up. Sharing home renovation woes. Watching Ben toddle around the house: picking up after he empties the kitchen cabinets on the floor; climbing stairs behind him, lest he fall; catching the foam balls he throws from the balcony to the floor below; retrieving them so that he can do it again, and again … and again.
Play is done now. And we must rest and prepare for Monday morning too soon to come.
Knowing this, Dixie takes Ben into her arms, presses his cheek to hers, cradles his other cheek in her hand, holding him near.
Touching the fresh flesh of new creation, she kisses his skin, looks into his deep brown eyes and loves him. She loves him with all she has. She loves him to the end of the day, even as she will for as long as she has breath.

Three things I don't understand. No four, I say, are too wonderful for me:
The way of a sail in the wind;
the way of a gull in flight;
the way of the gentle sun in the morning; and
the way of a grandmother with a child.

I look on, knowing holy sacrament when I see it, feeling the same longing for which neither Dixie nor I have words
She hands Ben to Rachel and sends them on their way.
The day is complete. Nothing that could be said was left unsaid. No blessing was left out, but for those wordless depths for which we have no language but our tears.
We have held them all tight, especially Ben, as if this were the final time we might touch
the wonder of his life so bathed, as he is, in our prayers.


II.

Jesus knows. He knows the end is near.
The time has come to leave those he has loved so well.
He knows one he has loved will betray him to those who will destroy him.
He knows he has come from the Holy Mystery of God.
He knows he is to die, to suffer, be denounced and destroyed.
He knows he is to glorify God and return to the One whom he calls as Father.
He knows the Father has put it into his hands to reveal God's own heart and
to accomplish God's desire to save a world that soon will crush him.

Knowing this …, he takes a towel, ties it about his waist, pours water in a basin and washes the feet of those he loves and loves to the end.
I don't wonder why. I know.
I see him, kneeling at the feet of human souls he has known and loved.
Much is said of this act of humility. No Jewish slave could be compelled to wash feet
even though a slave.
But what moves my heart and the heart of a cynical world is Jesus' desire.
He knows he will soon leave them.
He knows he soon will no longer be able to touch their flesh, see their smiles or witness their dense, uncomprehending brows.
He knows they will turn from him, every last one, running from him in shame.
Knowing this, …, he wants to touch them, to love them, to wipe the dust from between their toes, to feel his hand on the leathery soles of their worn feet. He wants to look them in the eye and touch them one more time.

So he kneels before each one after the other, intimately touching, revealing to each the love in which they are held, showing that all he is, all he has done and all he is about to do is for them, for each one, personally.
Watching the water roll from each foot, Jesus dries them with the towel, absorbed, attentive to the task of loving.
Why?
Because he wants to.
Because the loving desire in my Dixie holding her Benjamin, loving him to the end of the
Day, that love, magnified by an eternal constant, is the relentless desire and central identity of Jesus
He loves his own, and he loves them—you--to the end.

Three things I don't understand. No four, I say, are too wonderful for me:
The way of a mother with a child;
The way of the waves on the lake;
The dust of stars in the night sky, and
The desire of God to love us to the end,
to the everlastingness of eternity.

Jesus kneels at the disciples feet, and we see all the way from 55th Street to the impenetrable depths of eternity, into the incomprehensible heart of God.
We see past our fears and despair to the one truth that is more true than all that troubles and disfigures our lives.
We see the length and breadth, the height and depth of what cannot be known: the heart of the eternal wonder of God who has loved us since the birth of time when all the morning stars sang together for joy at the delight in which God has always held you … and you … and you.

The desire of God is to give the fullness of divine life and love to you.
Such is clear as Jesus washes feet, an act carried fully forth on the cross of his suffering where the holy intention of God's self-giving is unmistakable for all with faith to see and receive.

III.

We cannot comprehend the depth of God's desire to love and to love us.
But surely we understand the desire of the human heart, mine and yours.

"Unless I wash you, you have no share of me," Jesus says to Peter.
"Not only my feet, but my hands and head, too," Peter insists. And I understand.
He wants all of him to be bathed, cleansed, enveloped by God's desire.
He wants no part of his being left out. Nothing can remain unpossessed, untouched by the
Jesus gift and life. Possess all of me. Leave nothing out.

I share this. So do you.
You would not be here if you didn't.
You long to have him touch and wash you. You hunger to be possessed fully by a love as powerfully tangible as the touch of Jesus hands on the disciples feet.
You want it, however much you may fear it, and so, too, does every soul whom you will ever serve.
We are flesh and blood, craving to be touched and carried off by the experience of God's own heart. Our hearts remain unconsoled and mind's unconvinced by disembodied thoughts that just aren't enough for us.

So Jesus says, "Blessed are you if you do these things," referring to his loving service.
Blessed are you, not once upon a time or somewhere in the future but right here and right now, in the of messiness of crowded schedules, ragged nerves and complicated relationships.
Blessed are you when you absolve sinners with the touch of a hand and the comfort of gracious words.
Blessed are you as you wash feet and feel flesh on flesh.
Blessed are you are you open empty hands and receive the flesh of God's self-giving.
Blessed are you when you touch each others soul and skin with the joyous grace you have received through all the ways the living Jesus touches you.
Blessed are you when you, like my Dixie, cradle your beloved, loving them to the end.

IV.
Blessed are you for in all these ways you join the divine dance of God's self-giving in your time and place.
In washing and being washed, serving and being served, loving and being loved, you share the holy dance of the One who loves you to the end.
And will do so without end. Amen.

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