Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, made this observation about his grandparents’ home. My grandparents, he said, were not educated people by our standards, nor were they wealthy. But their home was spiritually rich, he added, “because all the things done in it, not only what was specifically ritual” found their origin in the depths of sacred scripture.
One such story in which the Christian faith community makes its home is told every year during Holy Week. The story comes in the last week of Jesus’ ministry. He has made his way into Jerusalem in procession with a throng of people singing and waving palm branches. It was a royal entrance. The Roman occupying force must have been on high alert throughout the week. When the tension has reached its high point, on Thursday night, Jesus called his followers
together for a banquet in the Upper room.
Imagine this story with me. The followers of Jesus gather round the table. They are decked out in their best clothes for the banquet. Pete the fisherman is there, wearing a suit he had borrowed from his uncle. What need had a fisherman for suits? Martha is there, neat as a pin. She kept checking her smart phone, wondering if her ‘todo’ list was complete for the next event her catering company was handling. Thomas is there looking very self-assured. But his mind is racing. What is going to become of all this? Does any of this make sense? Simon the Zealot is there, standing out in his black leather jacket with “JESUS SAVES” across the shoulders. The truth is, he has a whole closet full of leather jackets from the causes he had once so passionately taken up. He is wondering, quietly, if this Jesus thing is going to hold him much longer.
Jesus sits them down around the table. Then he says, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” When he came from the back room he had taken off his suitcoat and his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and had a towel tied around his waist. He is holding a basin of water. He comes to Peter, kneels in front of him, looks in his eyes and says, “I am going to wash your feet.” Peter says, “No you are not. Servants do that and you are our rabbi, our teacher.” But Jesus just shakes his head and washes Peter’s feet. He kneels before Martha. “I’m going to wash your feet.” “No you won’t. Do you know the kind of person I really am? I mean really.” But Jesus just shakes his head and washes Martha’s feet. Then Simon the Zealot. Then Thomas. Each with their own public face, and their own private stories. He kneels before them and washes their feet. Then he stands up, takes a step back and looks at them gathered around the table. “Do you understand what I have done?” Then in the silence he says, “If you do, you will be blessed.”
We tell this deep, deep story on Maundy Thursday every year. It needs no explanation–perhaps, it must not have an explanation. It is one of those stories that invites us to make our home—a home of the spirit—in sacred story. Again this year, I invite you to imagine and reimagine the story into your life: into your particular calling as a human being, as a family, as a faith community. As we continue the important work of making a home in sacred story.