Thursday, March 24, 2016
Doing Pickles: God in the Ordinary (RCL Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016)
RCL Maundy Thursday
24 March 2016
Saint Augustine’s Anglican Church
On the feast of the Epiphany 1981 William Wolfrum, or ‘Dub’ as most of us called him, was ordained as Suffragan Bishop of Colorado. Dub and his wife, Bev, had been in Worland, Wyoming for some years before Dub’s election. They were a down-to-earth, practical and deeply faithful couple.
Shortly after the election and before the consecration, Dub and Bev joined the Bishop, Bill Frey, and his wife, Barbara, for a whirlwind tour of the Diocese, from north to south, from east to west, stopping at regional centres where the clergy and laity could meet their new Bishop and his wife.
At one stop, during the question and answer session, a woman stood up to ask a question of Bev. ‘Bev,’ she said, ‘ we are so privileged to have Barbara Frey in our midst. She writes and leads spiritual retreats. She is a counselor and a person who prays for us all. She is truly a saint among us. What do you do?’ After a few moments of silence, Bev replied, ‘I do pickles.’
Tonight is as much about doing pickles as it is about the mystery of God revealed to us in the life, suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Tonight we remember Jesus’ last night with the women and men who had followed him for the past three years. On the night before the Passover they gather in a place of safety where they may eat and drink. At the centre of their gathering is Jesus, their teacher and the one in whom they are beginning to catch glimpses of God’s very self.
While the other Gospels focus on the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine on this night, John does not. For him every meal throughout the years has been a sharing in the life of God revealed in Jesus. The whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry has been to enable human beings to experience eternal life in the here and now of our daily existence, not just in ritualized moments of remembrance. Past, present and future are united in this moment, whether at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, at a well in Samaria, at a pool named Bethdsaida or in a dining room hidden from the Jewish and Roman authorities.
Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, an act of hospitality frequently offered to visitors to a home, but rarely if ever performed by the host. It is a humble act, but it is also a profoundly ordinary act in a region where dirty feet was a daily reality. There is no miracle here, no voice from heaven, no transformation of water into wine; just a man, kneeling on the floor washing the feet of his friends.
It is the ordinariness of this moment which I find most meaningful. When Peter tries to prevent Jesus from washing his feet, Jesus says so simply, ‘If I don’t do this, you will have no share in me.’ If you cannot see God in this ordinary yet humble act, Peter, then you cannot participate in God’s daily work of renewing the creation and restoring relationships between God and human beings.
And Peter, in his Tigger-like enthusiasm, wants more, the ‘whole meal deal’ we might say. But Jesus calms him down, ‘Just the feet, Peter. Be content with this. You cannot have it all.’
My friends, before we gathered to celebrate this ordinary act of hospitality, many of us shared in a meal. Hospitality was offered to rich and poor, friend and stranger, people of faith and people with little or no faith. Ordinary food, lovingly prepared, was offered to all who came. If we could not find Jesus’ presence in the hall during that meal, then finding him here in this meal will be even more difficult. Jesus joins us at every meal, whether we are eating alone or with others. He comes into our homes, into parish halls and into restaurants, inviting us to discover in those meals as well as this one the living God.
Often, in those meals, Jesus invites us to make pickles. What I mean is that Jesus asks us to know ourselves and the gifts that we have to offer in God’s great work of renewal and reconciliation. Some of us may indeed be people of deep prayer and spiritual wisdom. Thanks be to God. Share those gifts. Others of us make fulfilling meals that warm bodies and souls. Thanks be to God. Share that gift. The gifts God has shared with us are too numerous to number. But all are needed.
Six months after Dub and Bev began their ministry in Colorado, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate and served on the staff of the Diocesan Office. There were many times when I benefitted from Barbara’s spiritual counsel and wisdom. For that counsel and for that wisdom I give thanks. But more often than not, you could find me in Bev’s kitchen eating pickles and being given the straight story of life as an ordained minister. As I look back on the last thirty-five years of ministry, I think that I owe more to Bev and her pickles, the ordinary becoming the vehicle of the extraordinary life of God.