I wept in chapel on Thursday. Big awful slow drippy tears. I tilted my head back and let them flow from the corners of my eyes onto my shirt. I don’t really experience worship much anymore, since I am usually participating in the worship service in some small way. But in chapel, I can allow myself to experience worship. I wonder if experience is the right word – maybe the word is encounter or even, dare I say, feel worship. I know it’s really not about me and what is happening is to be about God and not man, but the feel of the spirit moving and rustling can be missed if we are not intentional about it and recognize it when it begins to stir.
So I go to chapel to just be. To just exist and dwell in the presence of God, without the busy-ness. But it is hard to leave that busy-ness behind. It was Maundy Thursday and I went to see if I could pick up any pointers. It was sparsely attended and there was no sermon listed, only foot washing and communion. I was going to sing but they didn’t need me particularly. I had almost decided to not go, but there were a couple of people I knew going in and so I wandered in – just to take notes. I almost was too busy.
The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
It was a quiet contemplative service, based on a Taize model. The theme was “Take up your Cross.” I sat by myself, halfway back, in the first of the “real pews.” I had a friend who is encountering difficulty with his calling come and sit with me. He has been struggling with the phrase “take up your cross.” When the theme was announced he took a sharp intake of breath and sat straight up. I began to feel the Presence. Ah, Lord I know that all things come from you.
… and knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…
We sang a hymn, “Wondrous Love” – What wondrous love is this? O my Lord, O my Lord? We prayed. The scripture was read.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
I sat still and dwelled in the Presence. My busy-ness began to drop away like crusty scabs and the half-healed wounds were exposed again, fresh skin raw and hurting in the air. You see, my busy-ness covers up my wounds, protects them, so that I do not have to feel that pain. I sat raw and tender in the Presence and let the words flow like salve over me.
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Shonda sat as she read these words. No sermon, but the Word itself. After she finished, we sat a while. Then Bishop Woodie White came out of one of the back pews, knelt before Shonda and began to wash her feet. I don’t know if you know Bishop White. He is a giant in my eyes. A true disciple, a man of God. A man who struggled with civil rights in the 1960’s – a man who misses his friend Martin so badly, he writes a birthday letter every year. Martin the man, not Martin the martyr. Bishop White is man who has been spat upon, trampled over, despised by the white supremacists, and yet embodies the Love of Christ. My tears began to flow and my mouth became dry.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
Bishop White knelt for a while and prayed. We began to sing “Jesu, Jesu” but not as a fast paced song, as a dirge almost. Sorrowful and slow.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
I watched as other people that I admire go forward and wash with humility the feet of others. I watched Dr. Saliers and Dr. Bondi go forward and wash their students’ feet with dignity and humility. I did not go forward. I am more comfortable with washing feet rather than with having my feet washed. I understand Peter’s discomfort. I sat and cried and dwelt in the Presence for a while longer.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressor.
I watched and waited and did not go forward. When all was finished, when we had taken communion and the chapel had gone quiet again, I picked up all my bags, my computer bag and pocketbook and my water bottle and my sweater and slung them over my shoulders. And then I pick up my crusty scabs and slapped them back on the raw skin over my wounds and went into the world.
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
I went to class, then another class, and then ran to the car, scooted home for a box of supplies, picked up the kids, rushed to church for our Maundy Thursday service. All the jots and tittles were not finished. We have a new worship committee and not all the wrinkles have been ironed out – we have not really meshed as a team yet, but it will happen. There are so many things that need to happen for a good service to be successful – so much work to be done. I got lost in my busy-ness again.
We really were not as prepared as I would wish. We had not rehearsed and I was not able to meet with the staff or committee earlier in the week because of an ill child. It was a lot of rushing around, a few miscommunications, nothing critical, but time consuming and important. There were some irritations-- I felt fractured, disjointed. The clergy gathered and prayed for a moment before the service, but I still wasn’t particularly centered.
We went into the sanctuary and again, for a second time that day, I entered into the Presence.
I read first from John 1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
The choir began to sing “Once upon a Tree, so the story goes….” And we began to tell the Story.
Since it was a service of Word and Hymns and I was one of two readers, I was able for a second time that day to enter into Worship. My scabs of busy-ness fell away again and I could feel the Presence of God moving and rustling around us. We had decided that only two of the clergy would wash feet and two of us would not, so that we could serve the bread at communion. Since I wasn’t going to wash feet, I sat in my chair with my eyes closed and listened to the music for a while. During the footwashing, I felt a tug on my robe. It was J – a friend’s six-year old son, sucking his thumb. He pulled me by my hand to the front pew and there were two women there that I care so deeply about, wanting to wash my feet. And I felt the Wind of the Spirit blow over my raw skin. They both knelt in front of me, with J and his 3 year old sister. There were 4 pairs of hands washing my feet – little children hands splashing the water and patting my feet and I heard the words echo.
“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
After they were finished, I couldn’t reciprocate because I had to serve communion later. All I could do was to hug them. Little J came up and took his thumb out of his mouth and said “Miz ‘Freesa, I love you.” What could I do? I cried and hugged him back.
Not only my feet, but my heart and hand and head as well, Lord.
I know the feeling of being unworthy. And yet, God loves us. God loves me. Enough to give this wicked busy world His Son.
It was a good service. The minutia of the details forgotten and the busy-ness should be placed in context. It was a spirit-filled service. Friday we gathered again and watched “The Passion” movie. Again I hid behind busy-ness, but the scabs were a little looser, the wounds healing. We stripped the sanctuary and we left the crown of thorns and a single unlit candle. The sanctuary was as dark and cold and still as a tomb. No lights, no warmth. We dwell in that bleakness of Holy Saturday and dispel it on Easter Sunday. On Easter, it truly is finished and we can cry out in Praise to the Great I Am. And our task it to tell others.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Theresa P. Coleman
In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity.