Maundy Thursday- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
“Ask Us Anything”
That’s what our sign read.
Last week I was invited by the campus pastor at Capital University, to meet with students on campus.
I enjoyed an afternoon of chatting with students, discussing their classes, and also passing out free swag to advertise for religious life on campus and our Holy Week services here at St. Alban’s
A few students took us up on the sign’s offer to “ask us anything,” but most just wanted to come by, say “hello!” and get a free bottle of hand sanitizer or chapstick.
The pre 1 PM class rush started, and soon the plaza filled with students hustling to their next class.
Emerging from the crowd, a student approached me. We made eye contact. Most students who saw the clerical collar, and who didn’t want to talk to a priest, made a point to pretend to look at their phones and dart by as fast as humanly possible.
You can probably imagine why.
Not this student. We made eye contact, and I could tell although hesitant, they had something on their mind.
“Can I really ask you anything?”
“Sure. I doubt I can answer any of it, but I’ll try” I joked.
They thought for a second, hesitating some more as if digging for a good question.
“Why don’t we see angels anymore?”
We talked about angels being God’s messengers, telling us to not be afraid, and how they relayed God’s plans with humanity.
“Can I ask another?”
“You can ask me whatever you like.”
They asked several questions in fact.
“One more.” A sad and ashamed look came across their face.
“Why doesn’t my father love me. He goes to church every Sunday. Jesus taught love. I know he doesn’t love me because I’m transgender. He disowned me.”
“Ask me anything?”
That’s what our sign read. I tried my best to answer, but I knew no answer I could provide would change this student’s pain.
Yet, the best answer I had was a deep empathy for this young person and a desire to let him know that God loved them… no exceptions. God never abandons us.
Tonight is the night we remember Jesus’ commandment given to both his disciples and the millions of disciples who would follow after those first twelve.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
It saddens me that this commandment is so intrinsic to our faith, yet the question asked by the student is a question asked by many, many people.
“Why am I not loved?”
It probably does not take you long to think of a person, perhaps you yourself who fell short of loving another and in doing so failed to bear the light of Christ, failed to follow Jesus’ commandment.
The short answer to this question is simply put. “Sin”
But if our job as Christians is to identify sin and repent, we must also turn towards Christ to find a solution and freedom so that this question is on fewer of the hearts and minds of God’s children.
So, I am going to flip the words of my own sign around knowing that God’s love will change our hearts and minds.
I’m going to pose this question to the Gospel.
Why is it so difficult to follow Jesus’ commandment? Why do we still struggle to love?
I cannot answer this question for others. I can only answer it for myself.
For me – and my guess is others – loving others starts with all of us recognizing and accepting God’s love before we can share it with another person.
Afterall you are included in this commandment.
“Love others as I have loved you.”
“This is my body given for you!”
Can we fully and intentionally share something we haven’t accepted or experienced?
Perhaps this is why following the commandment is so difficult.
There are times when I reject, haven’t acknowledged, or have forgotten that I am loved by God.
It’s hard to comprehend God’s great limitless love for us. It’s love that goes beyond the way the world works because it gives away power instead of seeking it. It is inclusive instead of exclusive. It is unifying instead of separating. And since we find ourselves deeply entrenched in a world that is contrary to this, it becomes hard to accept.
On the surface it appears foolish and so like Christ himself, love is rejected.
Yet, because we are incapable of comprehending, God gives us an example in Christ. To see Jesus, to know Jesus, is to see and know God’s love.
He shows us what love ultimately looks like…and acts like.
During supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, he got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet
Love looks like servitude. It looks like sharing a meal with friends.
If that is still confusing and hard to understand, you’re in good company. His own disciples didn’t understand either.
Keep in mind who is gathered around the table, friends that in some fashion or another would betray and abandoned him in his hour of need. Yet they are still fed.
The obvious example of this is Judas, but what about the others? Peter for example?
Peter tries to outright reject having his feet washed. I myself can identify with this. If you’ve ever participated in footwashing, it is a humbling experience both for the person being washed and the servant washing the feet.
Love requires us to be vulnerable to allow someone else to see who we really are. It requires us to look beyond the “dirty feet,” to see our brokenness, the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, hide or are ashamed of.
However, Love invites and welcomes the other into that.
“You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
This is the struggle that each of us have in one way or another.
From a young age we are told we are loved. At first we accept it with childlike faith. We even sing songs about it. “Jesus loves me this I know.”
Then we encounter a world that teaches us to be afraid, to hide, to question our validity. We’re taught to be dissatisfied, ashamed and resentful of who we are created to be. We allow others to hide our light under a bushel (to use a Biblical image)
Vulnerability is not a virtue we espouse, instead it is seen as a sign of weakness and a front it erected to deflect. Oftentimes a front that is projected at others and inflicts harm on them, as is the case with the student who asked “Why doesn’t my father love me.”
Yet, the profound message of Christ’s love is this.
Each of us is broken. Each of us has dirty feet. Each of us is harmed in one fashion or another by our own sin and the sins of another.
Jesus sees this. He knows this. Yet he still loves us. He still gives himself to us. He still feeds us with himself.
“Take, Eat. This is my Body given for you.”
If you take nothing else from your faith, remember this.
God loves you. No exceptions.
Despite his hesitancy, Peter is washed.
Despite his betrayal Judas is fed.
Despite their eventual cries of crucifixion the crowds are forgiven.
Despite the students rejection from his father and perhaps his own rejection of himself, they are both still loved.
Despite our shortcomings, our betrayalss of Christ, our lack of comprehension our views of God that are too small …we are still loved.
God loves you. No exceptions.
This was the answer I gave the student who crouched on the pavement and stared me in the eyes when he told me his own father did not love him.
However, I don’t think this verbal answer I gave is enough. What good is mere talk of love?
Words are not enough, the Living Word showed us how to love.
And so, as that student walked away.
I asked God another question.
“What should I do?”
The answer comes only when I realize that I too am loved.
I’ll strive to do what Christ did for me.
I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Love one another. Just as I have loved you