Maundy Thursday: Little children, God loves you.

Maundy Thursday 2020: John 13:1-17, 31b-35. Trinity Episcopal Church, Houston and St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson. View worship video here.

There are few things that I remember from prenatal class, but I do remember how to swaddle an infant. Swaddling is an ancient method of neatly wrapping and tucking cloth around a newborn to create what my husband would call a “baby burrito.” 

While my infant boys looked super cute when swaddled, looking cute was never the point. You see, snugly wrapping infants causes them to feel safe and secure in this new world outside of the womb. Swaddling prevents them from flailing their little arms and legs. It promotes better sleep. And it keeps them warm until their internal thermometer kicks in. 

Although much of my new-mother-memory is hazy from sleep deprivation, I do recall how swaddling our newborns brought us a lot of joy. 

It brought us joy because we loved our babies and wanted them to feel it. To feel safe, secure … loved. 

Though they are young adults now … we still want that for them. 

How could we not?

There are no infants featured in the Gospel of John. But in tonight’s reading, Jesus lovingly calls his disciples “little children.” 

Obviously, he cannot swaddle them, but he loves them —loves them to the end. He wraps a towel around himself. He washes and dries their feet. Then he gives them a new commandment:

to love one another 

“Just as I have loved you.”

A typical Maundy Thursday reflection is often about servanthood. Servanthood is an evergreen message, for it is an essential component of discipleship. Every day is an opportunity to serve God and God’s people. Christ sets an example for us, and we are to do as he has done.[1]

Yet this is not a typical Maundy Thursday, is it? When, for most of us, the greatest servanthood we can offer is to wash our hands, maintain physical distancing, and stay at home. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we grieve many things right now, including not being able to gather together for the Maundy Thursday ritual of washing one another’s feet. 

But this moment creates an opportunity. An opportunity to reflect differently on how God’s love is revealed to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

I don’t know about you, but as a clergyperson: sometimes it is difficult for me to connect to divine love when I am worrying about the mechanics of the ritual or the vulnerability of bare feet — yours and mine! 

So, I invite you to pause and set that aside. Close your eyes and invite Jesus to be with you now.

Consider the meaning of and motivation for what he has done for us … as he washes our feet … and calls us his little children. Meditate on that … and like a warm bath, sink all the way down into that tub … and touch divine love. It is the foundation of everything. And it holds you, surrounds you, supports you. Now and forever.

Breathe.

Now imagine rising up and being wrapped in a warm towel. Feel it. And feel Christ’s presence with you.

Breathe.

Little children, God loves you.

As individuals and as a community — God deeply, tenderly loves you.

 To the end. And through the end … to the other side of life. God’s love never ends. 

Now, open your eyes.

Breathe.

Ah, if only we could stay here … but life happens and we get scared, don’t we?

Fear has always been part of life. Below the surface, above the surface … it runs along through our lives. It is part of the human condition. But the pandemic daily places it top-of-mind for all of us right now.

Different people experience that differently. Sometimes that means we are not kind to ourselves. Other times it means that we are not kind to others. But as Brené Brown recently said:

“We don’t have be scary when we’re scared.”[2]

During these trying times, discipleship will have a lot to do with intentionally returning to that warm embrace of God’s love. Taking care of yourself is also taking care of other people. Like the instructions given to us on airplanes: put your oxygen mask on first, then assist others. This has always been true, and is all the more so now. 

Allow God’s love to swaddle you — tucking in your flailing arms and legs, your flailing thoughts and words. Allow God’s presence to calm you.

When I was a young child, sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night. Frightened by the darkness and the moving shadows outside my window, I would lay motionless in my bed. My heart would race but I would close my eyes and think about all the babies I had seen baptized at St. Timothy’s. Like a movie in my mind, I could see my priest making the sign of the cross on their foreheads with holy oil and saying: You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

I would think about the cross on my forehead and imagine that it glowed in the dark. And that no matter what, I belonged to Christ and because of that, I was always going to be okay — “whatever befall.”[3]

Sometimes, I would cry out for my mother. She would come to me, turn on the light next to my bed, and gather me into her arms … where I felt safe, secure, and loved. And she’d speak the ultimate truth … which is Christ’s message to us: It’s going to be alright. I am with you.

As we walk with Jesus through Holy Week, he walks with us through the pandemic. We all walk together, remembering his promise: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20b).

For our God is the God of Hope

… and the God of Love.

And it is in God’s embrace that we are safe, secure, and loved — now and forever.  +++


[1] John 13:15.

[2] https://brenebrown.com/blog/2020/03/21/collective-vulnerability/

[3] Hymn 488, “Be Thou My Vision, O Lord of My Heart.”

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