Happy April Fools’ Day! You can imagine, with seven kids in our family growing up, April Fools was almost a national holiday. We would plan all sorts of devious things for our sisters – that’s what the day is all about, right? Tormenting your sisters? I think that’s in the big brother handbook… I won’t go into all the traps and such, since they are kind of trade secrets, but one thing we did, that we carried over to school was to take an empty dishwashing liquid squirt bottle, clean it out and then take a 18 inch long piece of string, and feed it through the top squirt hole. Then, it was simply a matter of tying a small knot at both ends, so it couldn’t really be seen, but kept the string from shooting out completely. The trick, then, was to go up to someone, point the bottle at their face, and squeeze at hard as you could. The string, back by a good amount of air pressure and looking like a stream of white Joy soap, would come screaming out of the bottle, at the face of the victim, who would also scream. It was delightful fun from the 1960s. We could usually get six or seven shots off at our classmates before the teacher told us to put it away… I would expect if we did that in school today, we would be arrested, and charged with a felony or something. But have a good day tricking someone – it’s actually a worldwide event, which tells us that there are at least a couple of things that bring us together!
As I was driving Cheri to work a little later today, we came upon the flashing school zone lights. It was a momentary quandary, because the gut reaction is slow down from 35 to 20mph, until you are past the zone. However, for some reason the Fargo schools are doing online learning for the last half of this week, and so the school was deserted – not a child or a car around – but the lights were flashing – probably an April Fools joke or something, or they just didn’t set the lights to match the school day. Anyway, I took the opportunity to go bold and brave, since I knew it was free of any consequences, and kept driving at 35mph. I did that, of course, until a block later, I caught up with the cars ahead of us who were driving a dutiful 20mph. They apparently missed the big school announcement sign that said no one would be there Wednesday through Friday, and so feel free to drive your normal speed. It’s a long school zone, with two traffic light intersections, both of which of course turned red…
After we were free of what appeared to be mindlessly obedient drivers, I began to ponder why and how someone could be so oblivious to the reality around them, that all they would see were the lights that they saw everyday at that time, and blissfully obeyed. I guess if it had to be any way, it was probably better to slow when you don’t have to, than go racing through the school zone because you didn’t see the dozens of flashing lights, or you thought you were not under the mandate of that traffic law. Still, the third possibility – that you would be mindful AND aware enough to adjust what you obey or ignore depending on the real world around you…
So, today is Maundy Thursday – that special day of Holy Week for us as Christians, in which we recall the Last Supper that Jesus shared before his arrest and crucifixion in Jerusalem. As a kid, for years (because no one ever explained it), I thought the day was “Monday Thursday,” which made no sense whatsoever. It was kind of like saying you were going to paint something a “whitish black.”
I eventually studied the day, and came to know that “Maundy” comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means “command – or mandate.” After Jesus washes the feet of the disciples in the Upper Room, he takes his place and says, “You call me Teacher, which is right. If I, your teacher and master can wash your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” So, centuries later, the Church adopted foot washing as a ritual, usually reserved for Maundy Thursday, or when persons are ordained, which is when the bishop washes their feet. Of course, some folks don’t like the idea of having their feet touched, and so an offshoot became the “handwashing” ritual, which is not nearly as humbling, and kind of a sanitized way of doing things.
Actually, there have a been a number of different denominations or sects through history who have split over one particular part of the ritual. Today, if you go to Tennessee, you can visit (perhaps) the “Left Footed Baptist Church” where one half of what used to be the Baptist Church split, because they believed that the left foot was the first one to be washed in a foot washing ritual. Really?
So, on Maundy Thursday in some churches, there is foot washing, as faithful folk believe they are doing what Jesus told them to do. Of course, in the Communion rite, the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” also becomes a mandate from Jesus to the followers.
I’d like to suggest, however, that over the centuries, we have become in some ways like people who drive 20mph in a school zone when there is no school in session. I hate to use the word, “mindless,” or “thoughtless,” but it may be that we just haven’t thought enough about what Jesus invited us to do. You see, I believe that both of the mandates given that night were far deeper and more profound than what they appear to be on the surface. Kind of like seeing the flashing lights, and responding without thinking.
Let me try to explain. I believe, with the foot washing, that Jesus wasn’t so concerned about clean feet, or who does it, as he was about the way in which we view each other as part of the Church. Jesus says, in so many words, “I’d have every reason to just sit and wait for one of you to come and wash my feet – I’m at the top of our circle. So, being who I am, if I can humble myself and care for your needs, as you sat there waiting for someone else to step up, don’t you think you can do the same thing? It’s not about foot washing per se – it’s about serving each other, loving each other, cherishing each other, and doing what another needs from you, and not what you think they might deserve, and still keep your own standing. That way of thinking goes away tonight. That’s not who we are, and that’s no longer who you are.”
As well, as they shared the meal, and Jesus says, “Whenever you eat of it, or drink of it, do so in remembrance of me,” I believe that yes, the Communion sacrament is a precious and holy thing for us to share. However, Jesus didn’t say, “Whenever you go to church and have Communion, remember me.” He really said, “Whenever you eat or drink anything, from the glass of water and the peanut butter sandwich, to an elegant dinner – every time you sustain your life by having something to fill your stomach, or take away your thirst – remember that I am the One who has saved your life. I am the One who has brought abundant and eternal life to you. I call – I mandate – that you remain in constant communion with me, throughout each day, each night, and yes, when centuries from now, you come to church and taste a piece of bread and a small cup of grape juice. Remember me.”
When I think in these terms, then I actually think, and are aware so more deeply about what it means to follow the Christ. Not just obeying rules, or speed zones, or the top surface rituals – but living and breathing as one of Jesus’ disciples myself, connected with the other disciples who also seek to follow and live connected with the One who brings us life.
Enjoy Maundy Thursday – but also next Thursday, as you live out the fullest meaning of our Lord’s words.
Word for the day: holy. Pronounced HOE-lee. But you knew that already. This very common word probably finds its roots in Old English, although there are more than a dozen languages that also have either adopted or created this word. The Old English, halig, means “wholeness, or uninjured.” It fits when we read about an “unblemished lamb” that would be offered as sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. The word itself describes an object, or a person, or a place or an idea that embodies the presence of sacredness. In a real sense, when we experience something holy, we find ourselves seeing the image of God. It ought to quiet us down, and let us be still.
Of course, as is always the case, humans have the ability to take a word like this, and simply turn it into an intensifier for other words in a phrase, like: holy smoke! Holy mackerel! Holy Cow! Holy Moly! And of course, when we talk about the children next door, we can call them “holy terrors.” I would suggest that this is not the best use of such a powerful word. Maybe we could find a replacement…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.