Susan: In April my son Matt and I took a vacation together right after Easter and drove up into the Northwest and into British Columbia. I was so deeply grateful that he was willing to take a vacation with his mother that I offered to go out for sushi one night. In order for you to understand why that expresses my gratitude you need to know that I am not a fan of seafood unless it is dipped in batter, deep-fried and covered in tartar sauce….anything to cover the taste. So, of course, sushi is my nightmare. For years my answer to: “Do you want to go out for dinner?” has been “Absolutely as long as it isn’t sushi.” So of course Matt said, “I want to go out for sushi but you have to try it.” Because I was so grateful to him I agreed but it was a scam. I intended to not eat any fish that night.
So Matt ordered all kinds of sushi delicacies. He would make me pick up some raw tuna while he would do the same. His plan was that simultaneously we would eat our sushi together. “One, two, three” he would say before stuffing a piece in his mouth. I would agree but I wouldn’t do it. By then he was getting angry and the whole intent of this meal was to thank him. So on the third synchronized event I plopped some tuna nigiri in my mouth ready to gag and drink water and I found out I loved it. In fact, I absolutely loved it. Matt took a video of me eating sushi and sent it to his brother, Brett who immediately called me and said, “I am so angry at you for never agreeing to eat sushi when I lived at home.”
Now when people say do you want to grab dinner I usually say, “Can we get sushi?” It turns out that for 58 years I said I hated sushi but I had never tried it. Not once. I made a decision without any knowledge or experience.
I know that some people make that decision about participating in Love Feast. I know my mother-in-law did. She would never visit our home when we were going to have Love Feast. She thought it was the weirdest thing in the world that people would gather to share a meal, wash each other’s feet and take communion together…even though she knew that Jesus did all three of those on the last night of his life. So before you decide that you are going home after worship because you just don’t do Love Feast let me suggest that there is a sacredness in this ritual that you only know if you experience it.
Tom: I wonder what Jesus and the disciples thought or were expecting about that experience in the Upper Room. They had all celebrated the Passover Seder dozens, maybe hundreds of times. It was so normal. Were they “enticed by any sacredness”? The gospel stories suggest that no one had done much preparation, aside from Jesus. He tells Peter and John to go find a man carrying a jar of water – something unheard of in that culture. No man would be caught dead doing “women’s work.” So they find this unusual fellow (some traditions say it was John Mark), and follow him home, and there is the Upper Room, with preparations to be made.
Not much is said in the scripture about the actual food they ate, but for hundreds of years it had not changed: unleavened bread was eaten as a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites fled the captivity of Egypt, leaving no time for dough even to rise. Jesus talked about the meaning of bread – what we are to remember, each time we eat it. There were bitter herbs, usually horseradish, used to symbolize the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt – with an admonition never to enslave another ; a roasted egg, as a symbol of life and the perpetuation of the existence of God’s people; traditionally they ate a piece of roasted lamb shankbone, symbolizing the sacrificial offering of the lamb; there was a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, as a reminder of the mortar used by the Jews in the construction of buildings as slaves – in the King James Version this mixture is called “sop” – and giving this mixture to another in the Passover Seder was seen as a ritual of friendship, which Jesus gave to Judas, who betrayed him; and four glasses of wine are consumed during the service to represent the four-fold promise of redemption. In the gospel narrative, Jesus uses language connected to a wedding ceremony, where the last cup we drink is a symbol of a covenant – a new covenant, an agreement, a marriage between God and God’s people – the bride, the Body of Christ.
Christians of course, see the meaning of the Incarnation in each of these symbols. The freedom and hope we find in the Christian life; a recognition of the evil of slavery; our own participation in the betrayal of Christ and the daily work of Jesus which we are to continue to do; and the redemptive work of God in our lives and in the world, and the covenant we have with Christ and one another, symbolized by the wine or juice we drink.
At the end of all of that you would have thought the disciples would be humbled and overwhelmed and stirred to holiness and complete love and commitment to their faith. But do you know that the very next verse says that a dispute arose among them?
They were all wrapped up in attitudes of jealousy, and pride, arguing about who is the greatest; one of them was planning to betray Jesus. And Jesus offered a ritual of grace, humility and forgiveness in the midst of that, by washing their feet – every one of them. I wonder if they got it?
Susan: At the end of worship today we will move over to the Fellowship Hall to participate in this ritual we call Love Feast. It includes the three things that Jesus infused with new meaning on the last night of his earthly life. We will wash each other’s feet or hands as a reminder that we are called to serve each other. We will eat a simple vegan meal together as a symbol of our community of love. We will take the bread and cup from the table and give thanks for the gift of connection to God and a love so great it would sacrifice its life for the sake of love. Jesus taught us by embodying the ordinary parts of his day with meaning.
Christina Baldwin says, “Ritual is the act of sanctifying action – even an ordinary action – so that it has meaning. I can light a candle because I need the light or because the candle represents the light I need.” We participate in Love Feast because it represents the very things we need: to serve, to be in community, to find connection with God.
Tom: My earliest memories are about Love Feast. I think they are actually the very first thing I can remember as a child. I grew up in a pretty traditional Brethren congregation, so the thing I remember is looking at these long tables from the end, filling the sanctuary, all the gleaming white plates in a perfect row, as were all of the men with beards on one side and all the women with their prayer coverings on the other. They looked like angels to me. One of the persons in this memory was a man by the name of Orville Buss. He was a quiet man, a carpenter, and we knew him well because he sang tenor beside my dad all the time in the old hymn sings we used to have on Saturday nights. His wife Miriam was my first Sunday School teacher. And because Orville sat with us on the men’s side at Love Feast, he was always the person that seemed to wash my feet. That piece is the earliest of my earliest memories. I don’t know why, but he always cried when he did it. Maybe it was because he didn’t have any boys of his own. Or maybe it confirmed something he knew about the deepest parts of his own faith. I never asked him. But when it was finished, he would, in typical Brethren fashion, give me the holy kiss and offer me a blessing. Brethren where I came from did this all the time and thought nothing of it. We had Love Feast three times a year, and it was Orville who usually performed this same rite, with me, over and over. I figure he washed my feet more than 30 times. Maybe it was because of that, that Orville and Miriam were regular correspondents with me during Seminary, and that they were the ones from whom a gift of money came when we needed it, to go on. 30 years later I performed Orville’s funeral.
60 years later, I still think about the twilight times of sacred stillness of what we only knew as communion, lapping water washing through the chasm of our souls, the careful drying of feet with care as tender as the washing of a baby, the embrace of those who, though not related, are still kin. And so it still is.
There probably couldn’t be anything clearer or simpler than the example Jesus gave us about footwashing. Not only did he tell us how to do it and why we should do it, but he also illustrated it for the disciples – 12 times! Just in case they might forget or something, even when one of them wasn’t too keen on the idea – he went around the whole room; didn’t leave anybody out, and washed every one of the disciples’ toes and dirty, tired feet. It’s all about love, he said –
humble, bending down kind of love;
forgiving and forgiven kind of love;
deep and devoted kind of love;
serving and being served kind of love;
to be like Christ kind of love..
So today, we’ll have an opportunity to get down and dirty with feet. If you so choose, you may go to one of the footwashing stations and wash feet. You can wash one pair of feet, 2 pair of feet, however many feet you want. You can wash the feet of men or women. You can talk or not talk. Or maybe you prefer to wash another person’s hands – there are handwashing bowls for you to do that if you want. Or maybe you just prefer not to at all. That’s ok. We just don’t have any rules about that. And some people kiss each other on the lips and some on the cheek, and some just give each other a big hug or a handshake. We don’t have any regulations about that either. If you do feetwashing I would just suggest that you wash your hands before returning to your table.
What we are big on, however,
is this love thing;
this connection we feel as the “communion of saints”;
this bond of grace;
this peace which is present;
this paradigm of humility and forgiveness and service;
this unity we have with one another;
this example of the mind and work of Jesus.
The “how” isn’t important, but the “why” is absolutely critical. I invite you to be open to what God may be showing or teaching you about those things, as we will spend that time in a spirit of quiet and gentle service, listening to the sound of water and kindred love.
Susan: After washing the feet of someone who would betray him, someone who would deny him and the rest would just walk away in fear, Jesus sat down at the table to eat with them what would be his very last meal. This is a not a social table. This is the table of Jesus. It is a table where everyone is invited to come with their whole selves — the good, the bad and the ugly. Everyone is welcome at the table of Jesus and we are invited to bring our brokenness with us. We sit down at this table with people we love and people who drive us crazy; people who are friends and people we don’t really know. It isn’t a table of the perfect. It is the table of Jesus where we extend the welcome and receive the welcome. This is the table of Jesus and when we sit down together and embody the sacred in this ordinary act, we meet Jesus himself in each other. This is the table of authentic community and something sacred happens when we share a meal together.
Tom: Finally we come to the end of the service, when Jesus invites us to participate in this covenant, where we meet God in the breaking of bread, and choose God in the drinking of the cup: a sign of all God’s provisions for us; a sign of the nourishing power that satisfies all manner of hunger and thirst; a reminder that we may offer the bread of life to the hungers of every human heart. And that we are bound together at the wide table of God’s grace and acceptance in such fellowship that our love may reflect the very bonds of heaven.
Susan: And so friends, we hope you come over to the Fellowship Hall and bring your whole selves with you. You might not like sushi but the good news is that it doesn’t matter because that is just a metaphor. Come and see what Love Feast holds for you….for us. What does it mean for all of us to come and embody who we are and what we are called to do in the world in a ritual of meaning given to us by Jesus? Come and find your call to service, your place at the table and your communion with the Divine. Amen.