Having been raised in the church, there are quite a few stories from the Bible extremely familiar to me – stories like the creation, Noah’s Ark, Jonah, David and Goliath, the birth of Jesus, the good Samaritan and the Prodigal son…and, of course, the Easter story. I have read these stories more times than I can remember and heard as many sermons and Sunday school lessons about them as well. Yet once in awhile someone comes along who shows me something I missed. The light bulb goes on!
Years ago I read Max Lucado’s essay “He Still Moves Stones” from the book of the same title. Like I said, I know the story. Early on the Sunday morning after the crucifixion “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed. What they found was not a closed up tomb but one where the stone had been rolled away showing them not Jesus but an angel. Yeah, yeah…I know. But then Lucado asked the question that I had never considered. Why was the stone moved? Jesus didn’t need to move it to get out. Nor did the angel need to move it to get in. It was moved for the benefit of the Marys as they came and could then bear witness. They saw with their own eyes. Light bulb.
This week Stan Mitchell has been writing Facebook posts looking at the events leading up to Easter all those many years ago. And he’s pointed out some things that I missed before. His post from Holy Wednesday talked about another familiar story where Jesus has dinner at the home of Simon where he was joined by Lazurus, Martha, and their sister Mary. Mary knelt at the feet of Jesus and poured very expensive perfume on his feet. The Gospel of Mark says that this caused some guests to become angry and complain about the waste of money that could have been given to the poor. The Gospel of Matthew identified the complainers as coming from the disciples who were indignant. And according to the Gospel of John, it was really one disciple complaining. Judas Iscariot. All three of the gospels agree on one thing. Right after this act, Judas left the meal and went straight to the authorities to betray Jesus. Okay, familiar story. Nothing new here.
But wait. As Stan Mitchell pointed out, too often we focus on the wrong part of the story. (I know I have.) In the case of this story the focus has often been on Judas leaving and the betrayal. Sometimes it’s the extravagance. Other times there is focus on the verse that says we will have the poor with us always (and I heard a revelatory take on that recently too that made me rethink my understanding of that verse). But here is the part that Jesus SAYS we should focus on – and how did I never see this before – “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (Matthew 26:13 NLT) We missed the point. Light bulb.
Tonight I attended the Maundy Thursday service at Carlisle United Methodist Church. Pastor Mira spoke on the 13th chapter of John where Jesus and the disciples are preparing to have the final Passover dinner of Jesus’s life, the dinner Christians refer to as the Last Supper. Before the dinner Jesus removes his robe, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the feet of the disciples. This is not how things worked. This is menial, servile behavior not befitting their teacher, their rabbi. Jesus addresses their protests saying, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” (John 13:8 NLT) Good story. Well-known story. I even know of churches where they have had foot-washings.
Ah, but the important part for us isn’t just the washing of feet Again, he tells us what to pay attention to. In John 13:12-17 (NLT), Jesus asks them if they understand what he was doing. He explains that as he washed their feet, so they should wash the feet of others. They should become like him serving others in humility and love. It is versus 15-17 that give us what our focus should be (emphasis is mine): “I have given you an EXAMPLE to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. NOW THAT YOU KNOW THESE THINGS, GOD WILL BLESS YOU FOR DOING THEM.” We are to serve and to humble ourselves, to act in sacrificial, serving love not just speak in terms of it. Light bulb.
Part of the light bulb moment for me tonight was knowing and remembering that I’ve seen people who followed this example.
In these days of turmoil and discord, of people committing many acts of hatred while saying they do so in God’s name, it is easy to think that Jesus isn’t among us. Yet as I sat listening to Pastor Mira talk about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, an image came to my mind. An image from my early days of volunteering at New Hope Ministries in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and I realized that there are Christians who live out the instructions in this passage to follow his example. You just have to be looking for them sometimes because they come in very small, quiet ways.
I saw Jesus performing service in love through two women’s actions. And I didn’t just see it once! At that time we had a guest who came in for food and who often took a shower at the center. He was physically handicapped due to some health issues. He would shower and put on his clean clothes as far as he was able. He would then come to sit in the lobby where either Mary Wheeler, the center’s director at the time, or Linda DeCroes, an angel who has worked at NHM for a very long time, would quietly come out to the lobby, kneel in front of this gentleman, and put his socks and shoes on for him. They treated him with respect, love, and compassion, smiling and looking at him as they ministered to his needs.
Seeing them do this became my image of the work New Hope Ministries does in our community. The ministry’s phone greeting says “where we share the love of Christ with our neighbors in need.” For me, seeing Mary and Linda in action was just that and was also the image of Jesus on the night of the last supper. They became the embodiment of following the example he set.
One of the songs we sang at the service tonight was “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I see that love at work through NHM. The spirit of serving and loving I saw in these women is what I see from not only them but the others who work or worked at NHM in Mechanicsburg – Janet, Joann, Tom, Alyssa, Samson, Lisa, Joel and many of the volunteers who serve as case workers, receptionists, food pantry workers, warehouse workers, cooks, teachers, and career counselors. That spirit is also what keeps me coming back and doing my little part in the ministry. I may not always see Jesus in a church on Sunday morning, but I see him on Wednesday morning, Friday afternoon, or whenever I am privileged to be a part of New Hope’s Ministry.