The altar carving gives us permission to be who we are this week. As I sit and meditate on these faces in the empty nave, I love to let my eyes play one them – moving from one to another quickly. It helps me to remember that there were differing perspectives in that group; as there are in our congregation. Some were close to Jesus and others kept their distance. Some wanted to protect Jesus and others just wanted to ride his coat-tails or posture themselves as a form of him as soon as he leaves the room. Some wanted him to be high-priest and others friend and confidant. Some wanted Jesus to be a great Jew and others could not care less. There are so many archetypes and I notice, with amusement, how easily our making Jesus and clergy into one or another archetype facilitates our own emotional needs being met, wrapped as they are, with our stories.
Tonight, some will swoon to see clergy in the role of Jesus and others will tighten at it. Some will play at humility and some will really possess it. Some will want their feet washed and other will want to do the washing while others wonder why we focus on the foot washing at all, and not on the last supper.
The art of Maundy Thursday is in this altar frontal. We finally live in a church which will not burn a person alive for believing what is out of fashion in the moment. Sure there will still be manipulation, scolding and posturing but the real, overt violence is past. We are as diverse as these faces are. The congregation is a wide spectrum of ways of belief and ways of worship. Some will swoon at what we do tonight and others not.
What is important is that we gather together and we walk this three-part liturgy together, with two nights of intermission. And while we do that work, we make space for each other to feel and believe and even practice what has integrity for us. What is the issue is that our hearts and bodies come together to let the Holy Spirit move among us highlighting this, softening that, pushing this button, letting up on that button. We will bring our various ways of doing things and our various psychological proclivities. We will bring our insecurities and play them out the way humans do when they gather or find a bit of spot-light in which to announce our tightly-held convictions. But when we gather, we will be much like these faces – different.
God seems to be less concerned with what we do at church as how we do it. Are we gentle? Are we kind? Are we humble? Are we clutching our absurd pronouncements on mystery or are we bringing our baskets of hurt and loss and hope into a darkened room; wrapped in linens which we will need later anyways, to dry feet?
Intimacy seems to flourish inversely with the need for control; so tonight will be complex. The way I plan to do it is to simply let go, remember that what I am sure about is love and mystery, and try to let myself feel at least as many emotions as I see in this carving. And when I get too sure of too much, the carving is always there to welcome me into the messy mystery of it all.