It is Holy Week, and most of the people in my circle are slightly stressed, incredibly busy and very excited. We will celebrate this week, those of us who follow Jesus. Our churches will go all out to prepare for Sunday services, driven by the sheer excitement of what we proclaim (the stupefying, amazing, miraculous act of resurrection) and the knowledge that a lot of guests will fill our seats this Sunday, dressed in bright colors and open to joy.
We’re working hard. And we’re excited.
And yet, as in most of what exists in our world today, there is conflict. There is paradox, and the collision of strong forces competing for attention. The gentle love of one who saw the least among us as valued; the brutality of a violent death. The respect and welcome we offer our neighbor; the declaration of the only King forever / Almighty God….
The loud and the soft; the hard and the pliable.
I get in trouble with finding balance at times; I am introspective and prone to wearing headphones so I can focus, but I am brash and bold and assertive. I am decisive and quick to find solutions; I am weak and prone to self-doubt. I am loud and soft, hard and pliable. To live without balance is to create some havoc, both internally and in the world around me.
But that is no small thing.
I live with insecurities; with a ragged mix of fear and fortitude. Some days I get it right and – like today – I work through my to-do list with a fierceness exploding in a celebration of productivity. I end the day feeling good about what I accomplished. Other days, I flail about, filled with doubt about whether I’m liked or whether I’m right or why I even bother… It is a roller coaster, this life of mine.
And isn’t it like that for us all?
Most Sundays, the people who volunteer at PCC’s Riverside Campus gather before the services start. We share information about events, folks in the community, and our own concerns and celebrations. Each week, I take time to tell a story – one that helps understand that investment of time and energy on our part makes a tangible difference. A new family, feeling welcomed. A child, lighting up with joy. Relationships, restored.
Yesterday, I told a different sort of story – one that reflected on the rhythm of this Holy Week when it was seemingly just another day in the lives of 1st century men and women.
Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel.
– John 13.3-5
It is not an unfamiliar story, one often taught as an example of service, kindness, and love for others. But as words do sometimes, a phrase leapt from the page and captivated my imagination, taking on new meaning.
…knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God…
LET’S JUST STOP RIGHT HERE.
There is such depth in these words, a hint of the rich fullness of one with a sense of self that was and is revolutionary. Here is a man at a certain point in his life who enjoyed a crazed mix of celebrity and notoriety, both honored and reviled by thousands around him. By all accounts, he was responsible for miraculous healings; he pushed against cultural and political norms. He was like no other.
And in this moment, a significant evening in the last week of his life, his action – remarkable in itself – was rooted in this: He knew where he came from, and he knew where he was going. He wasn’t leaning into his deity, or calling upon miracles. He wasn’t pontificating or persuading.
He knew where he came from, and he knew where he was going….
…and it was enough.
He follows this simple phrase, this space of self-awareness and presence – with a generous act of vulnerability, kneeling to deal with the dirt in the room. Of all who knew him, these were the ones who would most easily assure him, slap him on the back, plan for success and strategize. They were convinced. They could have rested in this moment.
Instead, Jesus was present in a way that upended expectations once again. He lowered himself to wash their feet, to create a teachable moment that would echo through the days and weeks and years and centuries to come.
Yesterday morning, I looked around the circle of faces in our gathering place. Many were the same faces whose broad foreheads were offered up for the imposition of ashes in a peculiar vulnerability just a few short weeks ago. We were still, in this moment, and I’d like to think that the power of these ancient words sunk simultaneously into our collective souls.
And finally, there is this: In all the scurrying, the work, the preparation and the unrest; in the never-ending humanity that I will carry until the day I die; in the to-do lists and the wondering why; in the paradox of competing and compelling reasons to act and engage, I see this: To know where I came from and where I am going is no small thing.
In fact, perhaps it is all that is needed.