Canon Treasurer - Revd Canon Leanne Roberts
This week we’ve been journeying together towards the cross. In my addresses since Sunday we’ve been considering ‘The Kingdom is Now: fear and the unlived life’
The characters and situations we meet in our Passion narrative help us consider the ways in which we might allow our fears to prevent us from living as citizens of the Kingdom of God, which, I suggest, is now.
Maundy Thursday is one of the most eventful narratives in the Passion: we have Judas’ betrayal; the Institution of the Last Supper; Jesus’ footwashing and issuing of his great commandment to love; and the agonizing hours spent in the Garden of Gethsemane. Much of this is movingly enacted in our liturgy, and tonight I wish to focus on Simon Peter: his responses to Jesus’ desire to wash his feet.
Which of us cannot identify with Simon Peter’s reluctance? Here is his Lord and Master taking, to Peter’s mind, the role of a servant – subjugating himself unnecessarily. Except, of course, it is necessary, prefacing his Great Commandment to us to love with actions that speak louder than words.
I suspect that many, if not most priests seeking to wash feet at a service this evening have found it tricky to cajole ‘willing’ volunteers. Many have an aversion, it seems, to getting their feet out in church; but perhaps a greater aversion to being a focus – albeit a brief one – of attention for the priest and the rest of the congregation. There is something very exposing about our naked feet being taken, held, washed, and dried by another, particularly when it happens in public.
I wonder if, for Peter (and also for us), there is a fear of a greater exposure? And so, in terms of those fears that keep us lost, and imprisoned, and creatures of frustrated potential, tonight I would like to reflect on our fear of being seen.
By the time tonight’s events take place, Simon has already been re-named by Jesus: Tu es Petrus, Peter, the rock. Quite something to live up to, particularly as Peter has something of a track record of getting it wrong, not having enough faith to sustain him on the water, and, of course, the three denials of Jesus after his arrest which are so devastating to him. To my mind, this makes Peter a tremendous encouragement and inspiration for us all.
The priest-poet Malcolm Guite expresses this far better than I can. He writes this of Peter:
Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;
Jumping the ship before you make the landing,
Placing the bet before you know the stakes.
I love the way you step out without knowing,
The way you sometimes speak before you think,
The way your broken faith is always growing,
The way he holds you even when you sink.
Born to a world that always tried to shame you,
Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,
I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.
And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.
What would you wish to be called by Jesus? And I wonder if what you might wish to be named differs from what you know – or fear – in your heart you ought to be named? I know that’s true for me. ‘Call me faithful, call me dependable, call me brave, Jesus!’; and my interior voice whispers, ‘or flaky, fearful, fickle, if you want to be realistic…’. The fear of being named by Jesus accurately – which to us might mean according to our greatest, darkest fears – can be terrifying.
But that all comes from our internal world, which is shaped by our experiences, those who have been the most significant influences on us, our wounds and our fears and our sadnesses – the names we have been called throughout our lives. But also, those defences we’ve built up in response to these, such as our pride, and our piety, and our grandiosity.
The trouble with this is that a gap widens between our desire of how we would like to be seen, and our fear of how we truly are; we can feel locked away in what we think we know of those bits of ourself, which become more and more repulsive to our minds, and so more and more invested in presenting a false self to counteract it.
This is not living a real and full life. It’s also completely exhausting. We are who we are: the good, the bad, and all that is in between.
Jesus comes to liberate us from this rather binary self-perception and says ‘I know you. I’ve always known you. I see you. I’ve always seen you. I love you, right now – and I have always, and will always love you. I cherish you, and I can hold all your damage, all your shame, all that stops you being fully yourself as I intended you to be. Cast it onto me, and I will heal you. I can give you your name, and it will be given in love.’
Jesus’ responses to Peter throughout the Gospels show us clearly that we do not project, or dictate who and how we are. We are seen perfectly clearly by Christ: no sock, no boot, no chasuble, no carefully constructed persona can hide us from him, yet we are loved and accepted, here and now.
To be fully known, and to be able to accept who we are in truth is the only thing that can make us free. It means we have nothing more to fear: if God is for us, then who can be against us? It is our reluctance to look this in the face, and actually believe it, that keeps us fearful and mean and tired and bound to our idols.
I believe that we long to be seen, accepted, loved. But fear keeps us set apart in a way that is not holy.
Tonight we are offered a glimpse of the Kingdom; the opportunity to come before Jesus and say, with Peter, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ To be naked, vulnerable, afraid, and yet to believe that we are not only seen, but loved with a perfect love that casts out fear. Only this will give us the courage to seek to love others, with all their frailty, gifts, and imperfection, as they really are, too.
Call me, Jesus. Call me human. Call me your child. Call me whatever you wish, but give me the courage to be seen, and the heart to respond.
‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’