Graduation day loomed. One evening Jud and I puzzled over what to give the Gordon College graduating class. What did we pray they’d grow up to be? That we’d be? We wanted them to become men and women of the cloth. This wasn’t about clergy, though some would become ordained men and women. Our prayer focused not on where or who but how they’d live out their calling. Which is why, the next day, I found myself tearing towels into approximately 2″x 10″ strips. Lint flew, landing like snow in the small den at Wilson House.
Well, it was God’s idea.
This past week in Community Bible Study we studied John 13. The story’s familiar but the idea’s a tough sell. Jesus, knowing what’s about to happen to him, (betrayal, trial, crucifixion) removes his robe, wraps a towel around his waist and washes the feet of his disciples. All of the disciples. Which means that a short time later Judas slinks away on clean feet to do a dirty deed. He betrays the one who would never stop loving him.
Removing sandals, washing feet was the job of servants, not the guest of honor. Who wants to grow up to be a servant? Raise your hand. What are we imagining when we tell our kids, “You can become anything you want to be”? Do we picture them squatting down, washing filth off feet, while we crow to onlookers? “That’s my son!” “That’s my daughter!”
So back to the story of Jesus doing the unthinkable for his puzzled disciples, not for a photo op. It’s a holy kick-off ( like remove- your -sandals -and- notions -about- leadership- ceremony) for a love story like no other. Although, it began in God’s heart eons before. It’s why I find myself dwelling on love on this eve before Valentine’s Day when Hallmark stock rises and hopes, for some, plummet.
Our culture’s long forgotten, if ever known, that this day of love in words and deeds mostly originated in the martyrdom of a priest we call Saint Valentine. Why? Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to marry so he could build up his army. The priest felt this was unjust so he secretly married many young couples. The result? Valentine landed in prison. While he was there (I love this part, since I’m an incurable romantic) he supposedly fell in love with the daughter of the prison guard. She would come to visit and on the day of his death by beheading(269 A.D.), he left a note telling of his love for her. It was signed, “Love from your Valentine.” (Wikipedia)
Well, this past week I came across a few contemporary thoughts on love that didn’t originate in John 13 or with Saint Valentine. One eight year old boy said that love is “when you get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t so painful.” (Hah!) Another boy, age seven said,”If falling in love is anything like learning to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” And a girl, age ten wrote,”I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.”
So back to torn towels in our den and Jesus taking on a servant’s role to wipe away more than the grime of life off the feet of his astonished disciples. At the heart of all real love is God’s love. It’s why, at the end of the foot washing, the meal, and the exit of Judas, Jesus said, “I’m giving you a new commandment. Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34, NLT)
And that’s why we gave out torn towels, bookmark size, to each graduate. Sometimes we need visual reminders of how tough love is, especially to serve in love those we don’t even like. But God’s love isn’t sentimental or chocolate coated. It is the love that keeps on loving even when spurned, spit on and hung out to die.
I don’t get it but somewhere between birth and now, Love got me. And Love continues to pursue us. Jesus, the Christ still stoops to tend us, but this time, with nail-scarred hands he reaches, forgives and washes us clean. If we let him.
Next week is Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent begins, or as my granddaughter, Maggie, at age four told her Sunday School teacher. “It’s called lint.”
Which may not be as far off as it once sounded.
Leftover lint from a holy towel, flying about, creating a blanket of Grace, leaving an indelible imprint for any with eyes of faith to see and a heart to receive.
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