North Congregational Church
New Hartford, Connecticut
A service shared via email since we cannot gather together due to our need to “shelter in place” to prevent the spread of the corona virus that is spreading around the world
WORDS FOR GATHERING
Peace be with you on this holy night.
This is a night of love —
on this night Jesus gave his disciples the new commandment:
to love each other as he loved them.
This is a night of communion —
tonight Jesus gave not only a commandment, but also a sign:
bread and wine broken and poured, to remember him.
This is a night of service —
tonight Jesus gave us not only a commandment,
not only a sign, but also an example:
on his knees, with basin and towel, washing feet.
This is also a night of betrayal — It is the night when a man Jesus loved
sold him for money and brought soldiers to bind him as he prayed.
This night is joyous, fierce, tender, terrible.
Enter into this time of remembrance with an open heart. (The Rev. Mary Luti)
SCRIPTURE. John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
MEDITATION The Rev. Marcia Lynn Cox
Our worship services via email during this period of “sheltering in place” have been difficult for me and I know they have for those of you who love our worship services together in the sanctuary. But I thank those of you who have read them in the quiet of your homes. I hope they have been meaningful even though worship is meant to be shared when we are physically gathered.
In addition, this is an especially unlikely service for us to be sharing individually, since it is typically celebrated around a shared meal, usually of soup and bread and fruit from the Middle East: figs, dates and apricots. It is also a service in which we engage in two “earthy” rituals: the Sacrament of Holy Communion and hand washing (to avoid the possible embarrassment of foot washing).
Since this past Sunday, Palm Sunday, was a communion Sunday and you were given the opportunity to celebrate it in your homes, it might feel like it is too soon to celebrate it again. And because our lectionary reading for this year from the gospel of John, does not speak about communion, but only describes the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus, I will turn my attention on the profound symbolism of that act.
In our reading for the evening, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, and the name for this day may have come from the Latin word, mundo, which means “wash.” However, most scholars think that the name is inspired by the Latin, mandatum, from which the English word “mandate” is derived, referring to the mandate, or “New Commandment” that Jesus gave to his disciples to “love one another.” (John 13: 34).
Indeed, he instructed them, but what is most striking is the humility and the extreme servanthood he demonstrated. After all, Jesus was a powerful teacher, a healer, called “King” and “Messiah” and “Son of David.” Yet we find him here, kneeling and washing the feet of his followers.
This symbolic act challenges us to ask at least two questions: what servanthood means for us personally and what qualities of character and intentions we should seek in the leaders we elect or choose to follow. Who are we…and they…serving? Are our leaders serving the common good or only looking out for themselves, seeking praise and power and to further their own private interests and those of their supporters. In our own lives, in our daily encounters, and the ways in which we spend our time, are we asking, “What would Jesus do?”
One of my favorite writers and theologians is Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest. “All the truly transformed people I have ever met are characterized by what I would call radical humility. They are deeply convinced that they are drawing from another source; they are simply an instrument. Their genius is not their own; it is borrowed. They end up doing generative and expansive things precisely because they do not take first or final responsibility for their gift; they don’t worry too much about their failures, nor do they need to promote themselves. Their life is not their own, yet at some level they know that it has been given to them as a sacred trust. Such people just live in gratitude and confidence and try to let the flow continue through them. They know that love can be repaid by love alone…
We are interrelated with being, participating with the life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form. The True Self neither postures nor pretends. It comes down to this: the soul and the True Self know that “my life is not about me, but I am about life.” (-Richard Rohr, Lesson Three: Your Life Is Hidden with Christ, Wednesday, April 8, 2020)
It may be difficult for us to engage in acts of servanthood during this period of social isolation, but I think that we can find ways in which that is possible: ironically, by staying at home much of the time, by being gentle and kind and appreciative to everyone we do encounter, by making protective masks, by checking in on neighbors and friends. But also by reflecting on our lives, learning new things during this time of solitude and quiet. We can plan for the things we might do, and consider the new attitudes of heart we need to acquire and then display, when we will be able to be out in the world again, renewed and transformed by a greater degree of love. And while now have a bit more time to read and to watch intelligent political conversation on television, we can pay closer attention than we normally might by holding up the goals and behaviors of our national leaders, especially those coming up for re-election this year, to the standards of servant leadership set by the loving teacher and friend we all seek to follow.
These things we meditate on as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
MUSICAL REFLECTION Servant Song
SCRIPTURE Matthew 26:30-46
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
As we travel with Jesus this holy week, we are honoring the final days of his earthly life. So hold in your heart this night, as we recalled the outpouring of love that was shared in the final meal with Jesus and his disciples and the demonstration of servanthood in the humble and gracious act of the washing of their feet. But our journey is not complete. The darkness of Good Friday awaits. Remain with Jesus in thought and prayer through the night and into the suffering that is to come, as he has accompanied and will always accompany you through your life, especially through your dark days and nights.