Mandatum Novum

I attended the City Council meeting on the Tuesday after Easter Sunday. I was hoping to pray an invocation along with a clergy member of the pro-life coalition. I thought it could be a way of saying, "Though we might not be of one mind, we can be of one heart; that those things which do not strike at the heart of Christian teaching we can say 'think and let think.'" The heart of Christian teaching, according to the Gospel of John, is summed up in what is called, in Latin, Mandatum Novum, or "New Commandment." Jesus commandment is to love one another as he loved us. Anyway, I was turned down.

Instead, this person wanted to say his own invocation at the next meeting, not wanting to pray together. It seems to me the Body of Christ is broken indeed.

After the prayer I sat and listened to the conversation, and my mind kept thinking of Holy Thursday, the beginning of the ancient Christian beginning of Easter called "The Great Three Days." Many Christians don't even know what that is anymore. We are diminished in that loss of memory and identity. I don't think people can fully experience the healing, reconciling power of the Resurrection of Jesus until they walk through Holy Week. Skipping from Palm Sunday straight to Easter Sunday, moving from triumph to triumph, can lead to very different understandings of the meaning of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

As I thought of Holy Thursday my mind focused on the central act of Jesus according to John, a foot-washing. One of the last things Jesus does for his disciples before he is betrayed, arrested, tried and executed is get down on his knees and wash their feet.

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that if washing people's feet is what Jesus does as his last act, it must be very important. I mean, this is his last message, his last act, his last lesson in what it means to be one of his disciples. Foot-washing.Thinking about this I realize there are at least three major lessons we can learn that sum up what Jesus thinks being a  disciple of his embodies.

The first lesson is humility.

We practice humility in many ways, but in this case the practice is in receiving. Jesus gives of himself to us, and we receive that gift. Or do we? What does he give us? Love. Paul offers a few of examples of this gift of love. He uses words like patience, kindness, generosity, joy, peace, self control; never arrogant or boastful.

The second lesson is compassion.

Jesus tells us he no longer calls us slaves, but friends. By washing their feet Jesus models a behavior of servanthood through which class, political leanings, even differences in beliefs is replaced with the reality of true friendship, acceptance and unity.

We practice compassion through works of service, especially for those in need.

The third lesson is hope.

Without hope we might dismiss the first two lessons out of hand. Why should we practice humility and compassion when others don't do the same? Jesus understood our bent toward repeating the same old self-destructive behaviors that lead to violence, estrangement and self-righteousness.

You see, Jesus even washed the feet of Judas.

We practice hope by working for reconciliation. By loving even our enemies. By holding all things in common for the good of all concerned, what children call sharing. Hope transcends optimism. Things are not always optimistic. Easter says they are always hopeful.

Maybe the next City Council meeting should begin with everyone present washing each other's feet.