The poet Robert Frost once said to take the light things seriously and the serious things lightly. That’s not always good advice, but I would like to follow his model here and touch lightly on three of the elements in the actions and events we remember tonight. I want to talk about feet, food and gardens.
First feet: When you were a kid did you have someone, parent, grandparent, family or friend, take your foot in their hands and say, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home…. “Do you remember that? And have you ever held the foot of a child, and wiggled those little toes and said those same words and heard that child laugh? Have you ever considered the beauty of a newborn child’s foot?
Adults are different with feet. A lot of us are shy about feet. It makes sense. They aren’t real pretty and yet they are - I think - amazingly unique to each individual, containing biography in all the lines and curves, remembering all the journeys where we were pinched, stepped on, stretched: it all shows in the feet. They are also an incredible complex of nerves and muscles, delicate and powerful bits of engineering: built to take us on the road, link us to the ground, turn us around; set us on the way home. Feet are at the base of it.
In the world of the body, feet are workers, not intellectuals: they contain no theories, make no theology – unlike heads or even hearts – but they are absolutely essential for making clear the difference between theory and practice, the crucial distinction between merely talking the talk and getting out and walking the walk which is - to make a pun – no mean feat. Still, they are utilitarian, drab, and necessary accessories; and I think it is significant that Jesus should choose to touch and wash our feet. It says something important about how God loves.
Because tonight we remember and re-enact the Lord of all washing the feet of his gathered disciples and friends, to see how God cares for each of us particularly, how God wills and wants to touch us individually, in each of the unique places where we live and move and have our being. Jesus wants to meets us where we meet the road, touching us in the specific parts of our lives and journeys, and enjoying us more deeply than we might ever know. Yes, there is the cleaning up of it, yes, there is the work of hands and a fresh towel: but the chief ingredient here is love: a particular loves that is both so big and so small that it desires to love and touch each toe, arch, instep, heel and sole of each one of us. This simple transaction gives joy to God and it is a picture of love in action for each of us. It tells us something very important about the immediacy and the intention of God. God wills to touch, wash up and love each one of us. Because the love God has for us is much like what we have for a newborn; for no matter how sore, dog-tired and sour we feel, God’s love see us as precious, innocent, connected and created in that same image, and part of that same love!
Now if feet are unique to individuals, food means company, not just company for dinner, having friends in to share substance and spirit, though that is certainly part of it: but company as in a group of people, many, different, working together in separate ways that come together in a common cause. The bread and wine we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all together. Bread and wine mean grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, work of human hands, to rest and rise, to be taken away to warm and transform. All this before it comes to the table to be broken and shared: many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered to ensure this harvest.
And Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone! So, we celebrate God meeting us in the particulars of our own flesh and in the wideness of the whole world. As the hymn says, “Oh love how deep, how strong, how wide!”
And finally gardens. What is it about them? They are unpredictable places with seed falling into mysterious ground: summers with rich harvest or years when fire and drought kill growth and the fields seem barren: autumn when the promise of rain gives us new hope, cold hidden winters, and warm springs when life bursts into sudden glory. Gardens are like the whole world. They take time, show history, need much work, can cause calluses, break your heart and back, and yet we love them so.
For time comes to bloom in a garden, it is where we see our history. And Jesus comes to meet us there -- in the midst of a garden where there are many weeds, much neglect, much rot, much to be pruned, much that must meet the fire and die. Jesus comes to turn the ground over so that he might even be hidden in the harvest. He comes to meet us in the history of all things.
Have you ever planted seeds and waited for the harvest? God does. God’s seed is planted deep in all that is around us: all that is reasonable, holy and living. Even now, God is casting it wide to fall into all ground, letting the seed break apart in darkness, letting it be nourished over time, working the field, nourishing the crop, never ceasing to weed and watch, that nothing may be lost in life, not even death shall be lost in the light of love! Jesus will walk into that garden where all hopes bloom and will defeat every falsehood with the power of the deepest truth.
So here we are. Dame Julian says there are three things about the world that are important: God loves it, God redeems it, and God sanctifies it. That’s a big and serious truth and one that is sometimes hard to get the head around. But come and wait and watch, tonight, tomorrow, the next few days - and see!