Scandal

In John’s Gospel we hear:

‘Jesus knew that God had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.’

This story presents a great scandal of the Christian faith. That Jesus the Son of God humbled himself and took on the role of a servant. As a servant he stripped off his robe and in his underpants knelt down to bathe and dry the feet of his followers.

Peter didn’t want Jesus to do it. In part I suspect because Peter realized that he would be asked to do the same for others.

There is something particularly intimate and humbling about kneeling at the feet of another, washing their dirty, smelly feet. There is something particularly unsettling about Jesus the Christ serving in such a way.

Last Good Friday Pope Francis created controversy when he visited a shelter for youth living on the streets of Rome. As with Jesus the Pope kneeled down, washed and kissed the feet of the young people. The controversy was heightened when Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a girl and a Muslim boy. He was rebuked by some in the Church because it was so ‘unseemly’.

Pope washing feet of youth

Pope Francis is being embraced within and beyond the Christian tradition because he understands the scandal of Jesus. He understands that God came in humility to show us how to live by showing us how to love. In Jesus we learn that compassion has come not just for some but for everyone, those who are like us and those who are different.

There’s something profoundly unsettling that God’s own child would come to serve in this most humble of ways. The great paradox of the way of Jesus is that the path to spiritual enlightenment comes only through a life of humility and service. Its a great mystery that we find our self as we give our self away.

As always the opportunity to serve and find is extended to you and me. May the scandal of Holy Week continue to unsettle and inspire.

Holy Week: A Thin Place

Holy Week in the Christian tradition invites us to suspend our rational sense of what is and isn’t possible.  Like the Disciples witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion, we are asked to believe that death will not have the final word.  To believe that the terrible might of the Roman Empire has not won.Cross in Nicaragua

With Peter, John, Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, we are asked to consider a new narrative that Jesus has overcome the grave.   That the life-force in Jesus can not be contained.   Theologian Marcus Borg writes:  “Something happened that first Easter, that sent a group of fearful disciples, out into the street with the news that Christ was not dead, but alive.  Something happened on that first Easter that transcended their fear and despair.”

This ‘something’ is that of God which cannot be measured, quantified or contained.  It refers to a mystical, subjective experience which is real to the one affected.   For those without such an experience, it can be hard to believe.

The author Barbara Ehrenreich, is a well-known atheist.  In her new book , Living With a Wild God, she writes of a mystical experience when she was 17:

“This experience shook my safely rationalist worldview and left me with a lifelong puzzle.  In 1959 I stepped out alone, walked into the streets of Lone Pine, California and saw the world – the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings – suddenly flame into life.  It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heart breakingly beautiful to let go of.”

For years Ehrenreich tried to rationalize her experience away.  She doesn’t believe in God or gods.  Yet all these years later, she can’t  let go of wondering what it meant and the source from which this vision came.

In Celtic theology, the Celts (both pre and post Christian), believe that there is a thin place, a permeable membrane which separates our conscious world from that of the super-natural, the spiritual, the mystical.   That in the ‘thin place’ we are able to catch a glimpse of that source, that ‘something’ which serves as the essence, the life- force for all that is.

During that first Holy Week, something happened.  Something happened on that crucifixion cross.  Something happened when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.  Something happened when Peter and John peered into the empty tomb.  Something happened when Mary Magdalene heard her name spoken.

2000 years later that same life-force continues to confound us.  To challenge our carefully structured sense of what is and isn’t possible.  We are invited to consider the  possibility that something extraordinary happened on that first Easter, in those moments between darkness and dawn.

Could it be that there is something more going on than we can easily contain and measure?