“that night, I will go through the land of Egypt & strike down all the first born in the land of Egypt, & I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord. The blood shall serve to mark out the houses you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you & you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, & you must celebrate it’s a feast in the Lord’s honour.”
..a fine setting of scene for our Passover meal this evening, from which emerged Our Lords final meal with his beloved disciples.. “do this in memory of me”.. & so close to home this year, when it seems our houses in this privileged valley of milk & honey have been passed over, as we have escaped the destroying plague called covid..
“..if you are looking for me, this is where you will find me; this is where you will find my body.” when you have a friend it is his or her bodily presence that matters. It is little comfort to know simply that your friend exists or if he or she is several hundred miles away. What we need is bodily presence. But if we seek the bodily presence, the real self, of Jesus for us, where do we find him? Jesus says “don’t go looking in the tomb for my body, don’t go looking up the heaven for my risen body, don’t go looking anywhere, look amongst yourselves, look at the food you eat together, look at the life you share together. When you break bread together I am with you.”
“it has broken with the past.. this meal is the meal of a new community, a new creation.” ;Lord have mercy “unleavened bread in the Passover meal to symbolise the new community of the people of God that was formed at the Exodus from Egypt”.. & from covid ;Christ have mercy “Jesus shedding his blood real blood for us, murdered by our police, our soldiers, our border force agents, defending our right to live without love..” ;Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
..a different Holy Thursday night, no ritual washing of feet this year.. so a story of a woman who, so like us, was desperately in need of washing, of the healing of impurity; her story & ours begins tonight, & continues close to the Cross tomorrow afternoon. “I am someone you know very well”.. “each time I went down to the washing place I could see the gossips eyeing me with a delicate half-discreet curiosity, a kind of tender fearfulness. I hated it & I had to go; if I could have afforded to, I would have burned my soiled clothes & kept to the privacy of my own house, but untouchable, unmarriageable, defiled & defiling, always unclean, I had no access to money. Any that came, usually through my brother’s weary charity & his wife’s weary fear, I would spend on doctors who could hardly bear to touch me, who would blame me, & fear me, & who would not help me. The young married women turned aside in the road not wanting to catch the contagion of ill-favour or bad luck. I frightened them; I exposed the fragility of the shapes that made their lives. They would hush their voices, kind but cruel. Twelve years, twelve years.. 4,380 days, & each morning I would have to strip off the blood stained linen cloths & wrap on clean ones. Each morning I would examine my conscience, carefully going through each space of time across my whole life to find out what I had done that I should be so punished. There was nothing there. I was innocent. I had not been one jot more sinful than other women who now had four or even seven sons ..& as I walked as privately as I could through each day, I could feel my rage growing heavy, sodden with loss; & my own body, daily less fed, less rounded, less beautiful. Bitterness flowed in to fill the spaces where the blood flowed out. I don’t remember how I first heard of him or even exactly what I heard. They were talking about a man who healed people, demoniacs even lepers. Anyone; you didn’t seem to have to earn it, or join him, or anything. They said he was strange, that he hung out with the riff-raff, with prostitutes & tax collectors &, may I be forgiven, I thought “well, I’m not as bad as that” then I thought “it’s worth a try” I had reached the point where anything was worth a try. After that I heard that he healed by touching. He would not touch me. I knew he would not touch me. He would ask me what healing I needed, I would have to tell him, & he would pull back, disgusted & he would not touch me. Even if I did not tell him, someone would, they would move away from him & me, someone would shout out a warning & he would step back & I would be shamed. If he knew, he would not touch me. I didn’t have the courage to ask him to touch me, I could not face the shame of him refusing to touch me. One morning I was standing by my doorway looking out at the lake. It was a pretty morning, with the lake all sparkling & bright. I love the lake, the great stretch of water that moves & shimmers in the sunlight, moody vast & clean. I was just looking, & there was a boat, just an ordinary fishing boat. The crew were making an awkward job of tacking her under sail in the light breeze. I was just watching mindlessly wearily. Then the street was full of people pushing down to the waterfront.. even in the press, they pulled back to avoid touching me, however accidentally. There was a kind of excitement & finally I understood it was him, the Teacher, & they were coming ashore here. It was his boat I had seen, him & his friends coming back from the other side. I could not let the chance go. I would not ask him to touch me, I would just touch him; touch a bit of his cloak or something. For the first time in years, I had what I recognised was hope. I was hopeful that he might heal me if I just touched the hem of his cloak. It was terrible going out there into the crowd, being pressed against people & hoping all the time they wouldn’t notice. I had lived alone for a long time. What kept me going was anger. Anger can give you courage; I was so angry at my whole wasted horrible life; at all these people who ignored me, & at God. Let them feel contaminated, forced out, untouchable, unwanted. Let them feel what it’s like. I was tired of being ashamed, I was tired of helping other people to make me ashamed in order to protect them from their shame. I was going to do what I had to do. When I touched his long cloak the bleeding stopped, & I knew in my body I was healed. But when he turned & asked who touched him I wanted to die..& he reached out & took me into his arms. He held me. No one had held me, or touched me, for 12 years. He held me close & gently, his arms wrapped firmly round me with my head against his shoulder, protecting me, covering my shame with his cloak. He held me. [the work & prayer of Sara Maitland in her book “Stations of the Cross” the sixth Station ; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus]
..her story, my story, & perhaps your story.. of woman who rarely emerges into our safe sanitised version of the story of Holy Week.. on this traditional night of washing feet, the sign of servant discipleship, she & we face up to the full story, of our conscience, our uncleanesses, & “together” a Pope Francis word “together” we take courage, her courage, hopeful he might heal me & you.. he will heal me & you..
“I heard that he healed [& will heal tonight] by touching”.. in bread in body very soon.. “he would ask what healing I needed” his gentle invitation encouraging you to tell him.. “he would pull back disgusted & he would not touch me”.. how badly we misjudge him “I could not let the chance go by”.. here & now, the moment of a lifetime.. ”I am going to do what I have to do” on this night of washing & healing.. to do it.. “he asked who touched him”.. he knows from the inside; known since he dreamed of us “he reached out, took me into his arms & held me, protecting me, covering my shame with his cloak.. he held me”.. & from now, this moment & for a lifetime..
..& tomorrow she will go a step further to wash his face.. “who am I you may wonder?.. I am someone you know very well..” [Maundy Thursday; John 13;1-15]