People who know me know that I am a Georges Rouault fanatic. I love his ugly prostitutes, morose clowns, supercilious judges, predatory businessmen, vacuous bourgeoisie, imperious kings — and the here barbaric, there iconic Christ who came for them. Every once in a while a friend will risk a protest, “But his stuff is so sad!”
“Sad?” I reply, “No, Rouault’s vision is a vision of joy.” I love Rouault for the same reason I love two other Frenchmen’s bluesy work: Pascal’s apothegms and Calvin’s theology.
In the Bible things are sweet and beautiful and good for all of two chapters. The rest of the book is colored by the unspeakable ugliness and uncleanness that intrude when Adam & Eve take the Serpent’s bait. From here on, the book is about the re-flowering of a deflowered race.
I love Easter. From Christ’s resurrection, death begins working backward — deaths are undied, treacheries reversed, whores re-virgined, wallflowers dragged onto the dance floor.
But as much as I love Easter, I have a special fondness for the few days before. Days in which we reconnect with the barbaric Christ — who came to best our ugliness by becoming disfigured, our bestiality by “becoming sin,” and our emptiness by hanging in utter nakedness.
In With One Voice
I wrote about the way that Good Friday services at Northland (A Church Distributed, in Longwood, FL), the church of my first twelve years here in Central FL, sustained me during those years. Services that simply and starkly rehearsed Jesus’s seven words from the cross, the lights dimming a bit with each saying, until the lights went out with, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then lights coming up with the Apostles Creed’s, “… and on the third day …” By taking me into Jesus’s holy darkness, those services made his victory over the grave the more palpable to me.
In my five years at Orangewood Presbyterian (Maitland, FL), our senior pastor, Jeff Jakes, has urged this congregation to make our lives about “Christ and his Kingdom — it’s not about us.” It’s been nothing short of astounding to watch people “get it.” These people have built and restored houses. Suburbanites have gone into places of ministry that are not comfortable — and have stayed there. They go to Mexico and Turkey to support in person missionaries they support with their checkbooks. Twice in this past week individuals have told me about how well loved they have been: one who’s critically ill and who has had Orangewood people take him in, another whose marriage is crumbling but who has found church people acting like family. Week after week these folks set up and tear down a gym so it can become a sanctinasium. Week after week they take turns watching each other’s little ones so young moms & dads can worship. Week after week they honor each other’s wildly different tastes in worship music (we don’t do apartheid worship).
Because of the journey we’ve been on, this year we thought our Maundy Thursday service should put the “Maundy” back into Maundy Thursday. “Maundy,” after all, comes from “mandate” — it recalls the “new commandment” Jesus gives his disciples in John 13:34-35 to love one another the way he has loved them. How has he loved them? He’s just shown them, by wrapping himself in a servant’s towel and taken up a servant’s basin to wash their feet (Jn 13:1-17). To make the point as clear as he possibly can he has said, “… so ought you to do for one another” (Jn 13:15).
So, we thought, “Maybe it’s time we do what he told us to do.”
This year the pastors, elders, deacons, and some of the leading women of the church invited the congregation to allow their leadership to wash their feet: tokens of the kind of self-giving love Jesus embodied from incarnation to crucifixion, expressions of the church’s thanks for the lives of footwashing going on in our midst, and tangible urgings to do so all the more.
I’ll carry memories of this service with me for a long time. The most vivid was that of one of our elders — an exceedingly, exceedingly successful businessman who must wear his suit, starched white shirt and power tie in the shower — on his knees (in his suit, starched white shirt and power tie) on the one portion of our floor that was soaking wet because of a leaky basin. I caught him looking into the eyes of one of our middle schoolers, just getting her name so she could be reminded that Jesus loves her personally.
In her blog
, Amy Pitsch shares some of her reactions — the discomfort she had to overcome was just like mine when a number of years ago I found myself unexpectedly dragged into my first footwashing.
As I write on Holy Saturday (listening to the Tavener-&-Mahler-&-Penderecki-laced soundtrack to Children of Men
) my heart is full of grateful wonder. I marvel at the beautification of the ugly that was played out with basin and towel 2,000 years ago. And I resolve to take up my basin and towel because of the promise that one day the power of humility over pride, of love over hate, of lowliness over haughtiness, will re-light the globe, and the glory of Christ and his Father will outshine the sun itself.
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!”