Sometimes in the last part of a movie or play that is otherwise action packed with drama, intrigue, special effects, there will be a very quiet scene. This gives the audience a chance to breathe, to catch up on the themes and motifs of the drama, and to get ready for the final part. The events we remember here tonight have that flavour about them. But this is not a simple night, and each of the actions we see and hear here point to something that is rich and complex and not easy to perceive, almost beyond belief. But let’s start simply, and talk about feet, food and gardens.
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 listened to that child laugh? Have you ever considered the beauty of a newborn child’s foot?
Adults are different that way. A lot of people are shy about their 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, powerful bits of engineering. Built to take us on the road, to 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, have no theology attributed to them– unlike heads or even hearts – but they are crucial for knowing the difference between theory and practice, feet know the crucial difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. And - to make a pun – that’s no mean feat. Still, they are drab, utilitarian, very everyday necessary accessories, and I think it is significant that Jesus should choose to touch and wash our feet. It says something 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. For Jesus wants meets us where we meet the road. God is holding us close here, 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 is love: a particular loves that is both so big and so small that it comes to us to meet and love and touch each toe, arch instep, heel and sole of each of us. This 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, the intention and the innocence of God. God does will to touch, wash up and love each of us. Because the love God has for us is like that we have for a newborn, no matter how tired, sore, dog-tired and sour we feel, God’s love see us as precious, innocent, newborn and creative and connected, 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 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 togethers. 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 they come 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 together 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 or own skin and in the wideness of the whole world. As the hymn says, “Oh love how deep, how strong, how wide!”
And soon the scene changes and we will come to a garden. If this were a play we would think back to the beginning: Act One Scene One: the first chapter of Genesis. Maybe not the best action, but whatever happened it got the plot rolling and the scenes changing. The focus got very wide after that first scene in Genesis. And now the action is getting tight again.
What is it about gardens? They are unpredictable places of work and mystery, seed falling into ground, summers with rich harvest or years when fire and drought kill growth and the field lie barren. There are hidden winters when nothing is seen to be happening, and warm springs when life burst into sudden bloom and promise. 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. Comes to toil in a garden where
there are many weeds, sign of 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! Jesus will walk into the garden where all hopes bloom and will defeat every falsehood with the power of that deepest truth.
So here we are. And Dame Julian says there are three things about the world that are important: God loves it, redeems it, and sanctifies it. That’s a big truth and one that is sometimes hard to get the head around. But watch, tonight, tomorrow, the next few days; walk and watch and see!