Maybe it’s just the ridiculous confluence of circumstances that have combined to provoke a perfect storm of emotional energy and occupational drama, but… MAN. It’s Saturday right now, the day after Good Friday, and I am spent. I’ve been in rehearsals and scheduling meetings and frantically handling a bunch of errands. The end of Holy Week is approaching, and holy [insert expletive] , I … am… TIRED.
I know that Easter Sunday is gonna be the bomb and all that, but just getting this far has taken such a toll on me. I feel like by the time Sunday comes and goes, it’ll all just be a hazy blur of inspirational music and good food.
And it’s too bad, because the end of this Holy Week has been great, lemme tell ya.
Forgive me for contradicting myself, but it’s true. Well, maybe great isn’t the best term. It wasn’t exactly courtside-seats-during-the-playoffs good, or even season-finale-of-my-favorite-series good. It wasn’t even particularly enjoyable, per se. But it was unexpectedly significant, and I’d be lying if I denied laughing, crying, or being moved.
I guess what I’m saying is that it was good.
It started with my first Maundy Thursday service at good ol’ ICC. Those of you who know me well know that I’m not Catholic, and didn’t grow up with any appreciable concept of liturgy. So the fact that my church is now attempting to follow the liturgical calendar is pretty cool, albeit somewhat strange-and-new. I’m hoping that by this time next year I’ll have moved past the novelty phase and just start naturally taking all this seriously. But I’m not there yet, which means that a lot of this stuff is still pretty new to me.
Take Maundy Thursday, for example. Everybody knows what Easter is (though few evangelicals acknowledge the pagan roots of the word), and Good Friday is one of life’s greatest ironies, but I had never heard the term ‘Maundy Thursday’ until earlier this year. And being so busy attending to the details of life, I hadn’t taken the time to look it up, but everytime people would remind us it was coming up, my ignorance on the subject would slightly irritate me.
What irritated me even more was that there didn’t seem to be a consensus on how ‘maundy’ was pronounced. So the first time I heard it I was really confused, because when I heard the news about the upcoming ‘Monday Thursday’ service, I wanted to raise my hand and say, whoa, whoa…which day is it? I mean, I’m okay with assimilating my info as I go along, but I can’t very well expect to get anything out of a service if I don’t even know which day it’s on. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that this wasn’t some sort of all-week revival that started on Monday and ended on Thursday. I mean, dag… I’m cool with celebrating the liturgical calendar, but not even Baptists usually have church that long.
(The other pronunciation I kept hearing was ‘Mandy Thursday,’ which sounds like a wacky USA Network marathon of programming starring Mandy Moore and Mandy Patinkin. “Don’t go away, folks! After tonight’s broadcast of “A Walk to Remember,” we’ll be up all night with “The Princess Bride,” “Saved!” and a very special “Chicago Hope.”)
As it turns out, the word ‘maundy’ is derived from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get our English word ‘mandate.’ It refers to the Lord telling his disciples to love one another. And it’s always on a Thursday, because that’s supposed to be when the Last Supper took place. And we all know what the Last Supper is famous for…
The Body of Christ, Chipped Into Little Tiny Pieces for You
Communion, which is a delightful euphemism for the ritualized dispersal of bread pieces and plastic shot-glasses of grape juice. Unlike other forms of liturgy, I’ve taken communion many times in my life. It has always struck me as rather odd that we eat food to celebrate a great feast that we would probably never eat if we were, in fact, having a great feast. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never come home from a long day’s work craving 40 ounces of Welch’s and a box of Manischewitz.
Nevertheless, Communion is always a moving experience for me. I marvel at the immense magnitude of Christ’s obedience in dying on the cross, something that He apparently did with me in mind. Unbelievably hard to fathom, this idea. Every time I take Communion I’m filled with gratitude; consequently, every time I’m presented with the opportunity to do so, I expect to have a unique God experience.
What I don’t expect to do, however, is giggle like a schoolgirl. Yet that’s what I found myself doing last night during communion. While the rest of the congregation was solemnly partaking of the bread and the wine, I had tears streaming down my face, trying to suppress a giddy, idiotic little smile.
And it all happened because I botched the initial hand-off.
You know what I’m talking about.
See, during a normal (for me) communion service, you walk up to a server and pick up your little piece of broken matzo cracker out of a tray where they’ve already been broken into little pieces. Or in other evangelical circles, you might have a large, basketball-sized loaf of bread that everyone passes around, and one rips off a little piece of one’s self, and that’s that. Nine times out of ten, it’s a pretty simple, fail-safe transaction. It shouldn’t be a complicated thing, because to focus on the food itself is to miss the point entirely.
But this time, we were passing around whole matzo crackers, and everyone was breaking off a little piece for his or herself. And as they made their way through the congregation, no one was having trouble with it… except for me.
Now let me just say for the record that I think matzo crackers can be really tasty (especially the egg ones), but they’re not exactly Kit-Kats in terms of ease of breakability. There’s a reason why their jingles never end with ‘break me off a piece o dat MAT-ZO CRACKER.’ They just don’t work that way. They’re really finicky. You can grab a piece at the end, break it off, and end up with a five-inch shard – or you could end up with practically nothing. It’s like a little mini episode of “Deal or No Deal.” So most people put their fingers in the right spot and hope for the best.
I, not being like most people, was completely absorbed in reflection when the cracker was passed to me, so I just absentmindedly groped for it, pinching off a piece with my thumb and forefinger. When I looked down in my hand, what I saw was very little. My piece was tiny. Seriously, I’ve seen grains of rice bigger than the piece I had. Naturally, I was a little disappointed. And honestly, I wanted a bigger piece.
But I had to suck it up and accept it. I wasn’t about to pull a double-dip move during Communion. I mean, how do you justify that? Yeah sure, Jesus was brutally murdered on a wooden cross, but an inadequate Communion wafer? That’s more than I can bear. So for a few seconds I sat there, pondering whether or not grabbing for a bigger piece of matzo constituted a breach of unwritten Communion protocol. As the lunacy of it all hit me, I started to laugh.
By this point, my beautiful wife seated next to me took notice of my plight, and offered me half of her own cracker. I was, to say the least, relieved. I don’t know if my fragile male ego would’ve been capable of enduring the humiliation any much longer. Yet another reason why I’m glad she’s around. She broke me off a li’l some’n some’n, my chuckles subsided, and I was in business. Back to remembering the body and blood of Christ.
But then, I had to laugh again.
Because, as many churches do, ours has a tradition of exchanging pieces with someone next to you before you partake. And it felt silly, but I leaned over to Holly to exchange the piece I had with hers, a piece I had just received from her in the first place. But no – she was exchanging with the woman on her other side, which meant I had to exchange with the guy sitting closest to me.
Which made me doubly glad I had gotten a replacement from Holly, because the only thing worse than breaking off an inferior piece of Communion cracker is having to pass that sad little thing off to somebody else.
Beautiful Feet? Yeah, Right.
Gospel songwriter Donald Lawrence wrote a song called “Beautiful Feet,” featured on his album entitled I Speak Life. It’s a wonderful, tender song that refers to Isaiah 52:7 (“Beautiful are the feet are those that carry this gospel…”), and offers encouragement to those who do their duty without compliment or encouragement. It’s a lovely metaphor set to a very elegant piece of music.
But it sure wasn’t written about my feet.
I mention this in reflection of the other part of the Maundy Thursday service, the time-honored ritual of foot-washing. Jesus did this for the disciples as an example of servant leadership, so in response we as a body of believers had the opportunity to relive this experience through the washing of each other’s feet.
At least, that’s how it looked in theory.
In practice, a few brave souls stood in the front of the church and offered to wash the feet of any who walked up and sat in front of the stage. As the invitation was given, I detected a certain air of reticence in the small congregation. It was as if everyone had fully endorse the concept of foot washing, but no one was ready to actually give it a try.
Always trying to polish my leadership skills, I decided that I should break the ice by walking up. Because hey, any time there is weird new thing, it helps if someone else will try it out first. Human nature, I guess. Not that foot washing itself is weird, I mean we all had heard of it, but uh… you know, actually doing it is a different thing.
So I walked up to the front, trying to be a good example and show that this foot-washing thing isn’t such a big deal, when it occurred to me. Oh man… I’ve gotta take my shoes off now. In front of all these people.
Now I’m sure there are some of you whose feet probably smell great.
(Like Holly’s friend Esmerelda, who owns a local spa and hosts a women’s small group Bible study there. When Es leaned over to ask Holly what she missed, Holly told her about the foot-washing that had just taken place. Apparently she had just had her feet washed at the spa before she came to church. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is.)
But I’m not one of those people. Sometimes my feet stink. No, that’s not quite true. Most of the time my feet stink. As a matter of fact, the only time when my feet usually don’t stink is right after I get out of the shower. And sometimes even then.
So when I realized that I was going to have to take my shoes off and subject my feet to someone else, in front of the whole church, I got a little scared. And in that moment, I made a startling realization…
Servant Humility Flows Both Ways
When the topic of foot-washing is discussed, we rightfully shine our light on Jesus as our propel model of humility. But we often fail to see that sometimes receiving such an act requires just as much humility as giving it, because it requires that we put our weakness on display.
This truth was brought to light toward the end of the service, as the pastor (who’s also my Dad), made a tearful admission in front of the believers in attendance. After six decades of life and two hip-replacement surgeries, he doesn’t like participating in foot-washing ceremonies.
He doesn’t want people to notice the fact that he has trouble bending over.
Seeing him choking up as he shared that insight, I was one of many brought to tears. I was wondering if I was the only one who grappled with such a fear, but apparently I was wrong.
Like father, like son.
The truth is, all of us are uncomfortable on some level with showing our infirmities. And this universal truth is typified by Peter’s reaction to Christ Jesus in John 13. Peter, in all his testosterone-filled glory, first denies Jesus access to his dirty feet. You? Wash MY feet, Jesus? NEVER. It’s like he’s repulsed by the thought. Why should a guy like Jesus have to do that for a guy like me?
And yet, after Jesus gently explains to Peter that “unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” Peter thinks about it some more, and goes the other way.
Well shoot, Jesus. Don’t just stop there. A pedicure would be nice, too. Maybe you could give me a mud-bath, an organic shampoo treatment and a full-body massage.
(Memo to Peter: SLOW DOWN. This is Jesus we’re talking about, and we’re still in church. Esmeralda’s spa is half a mile west on Interstate.)
Isn’t this also typical of how we sometimes respond to servant leadership? Some of us want to take advantage of the kindness we are shown. Yet, to do so is to miss the point entirely. Jesus performed this particular act of service to show us how to do it for others. It was part of his discipleship regimen. It was His radical way of showing how much His kingdom stands apart from the kingdoms of this world. When everyone else is clawing their way up, you make your way down. THAT is how you represent Me.
“Freely you have received, freely give.”
Matthew 10:8, NIV
A New Kind of Good
The more I read about Jesus, the more I realize that this sort of reversed, unintuitive way of thinking is central to His character. You want life? First, you have to lose it. You want to inherit treasures in heaven? Start by giving away what you have. And so on.
This kind of thinking also explains the true meaning of Good Friday.
I’ve always wondered why it’s called ‘good.’ I mean, isn’t this the day that Jesus had to die a sickening, brutal, horrifyingly gruesome death? Why don’t we call it ‘Ugly Friday’, or the something offbeat and catchy, like ‘The Mother of All Bad Days?’ Surely both of those titles have way better marketing potential than Good Friday, and I just made those up off the top of my head. Why ‘Good Friday’? Why not explore some kind of promotional partnership with TGI Friday’s and build the brand that way?
I’ll tell you why. Because when God says something is good, He doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing that we do. His good is a lot different than our good.
Our good usually relates to convenience or material gain. His good is a term that refers to any condition that is consistent with His plan unfolding, His Word going forth, or His Kingdom being advanced.
Simply put, when we say something is good, we mean it’s good for us. When He says it’s good, He means that it’s good, PERIOD. Not just good-for-us. But completely, inexorably, undeniably good, in all respects. Intrinsically good. Good to the core.
Our problem is that we don’t always recognize His good because it doesn’t always look like our good.
On Friday, I was having a bad day. Admittedly, compared to Jesus’ Good Friday, my bad day might as well have been a walk in the park. I didn’t have to contend with a vicious crowd clamoring for my death. I just had a bunch of stuff to do and less time to do it with than I preferred.
Nevertheless, even a day later, I can see how God has been using this period of turmoil to work on my character. He’s building in me discernment, to help me see how I could have made better choices along the way. He’s building in me compassion, so that I can see when others have needs that I can help to meet. He’s building in me endurance, so that I won’t quit when stuff gets hard. He’s molding me into the image of His Son.
And that, my friends, is good.
So if this Easter weekend, or the Lent season as a whole, has left you with more to be desired, then maybe you need to take a closer look at things. Maybe God is at work and you’re missing it. Maybe you need to “smell what The Rock is cookin.”
‘Cause lemme tell ya. I’ve tasted, and I’ve seen.
Trust me. It’s good.
I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.