Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Lesson of Humility at Easter

Published in the Fiji Times' Off the Wall with Padre James 16th April 2014

It was wonderful to see all the children shouting “Hosanna!”on Palm Sunday, which for some churches was also Children’s Sunday. It marked the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week for the Christian community. It is a time of reconnection with the key historical events of the Christian faith and is for many Christians a way of merging a lived faith with a living history of God’s salvation.

This week takes us from that triumphal entry and towards a glorious resurrection and appearances of the Risen Lord, first to Mary Magdalene and then to others. On the way Christians encounter the themes of love, rejection, betrayal, denial, pain, humiliation and death.
Many are familiar with the film the “The Passion of the Christ” in which we see manifested humankind's worst attributes. Last week I watched the Fiji premier of the film, Son of God” at the VMAX Cinema. Although not as intense as “The Passion” it is a reminder of the precious gift of God’s grace for all. As we are reminded of how low we can go, how greed for wealth, lust for power and the fear that causes us to brutalise those different from us, we a given glimpses of the strength of love. In the face of tyranny, we are shown humility. At the moment of injustice, we receive forgiveness. And surrounded by conflict we experience reconciliation.
Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu reflected on the Son of God:
‘Son of God’ is a powerful and beautiful movie which I hope and pray will be humbly watched by Christians and non-Christians across the world as a bridge for respectful dialogue. Most religions share a core Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you'. We are all sons and daughters of God, called to be vessels of healing balm to a wounded world tired of theological and dogmatic dogfights that too often lead to despicable carnage in the name of our respective and limited understanding of God. We are all, irrespective of the nametag we wear, called to be people of compassion, humility, justice and gentleness. These are the fruits of love and, in the end, they are all that matter. Why? Because God is LOVE.”
The compassion, humility, justice and gentleness of Christ during Holy Week is reflected in his washing of his disciples' feet.
To wash feet is a back bending task. One particular Maundy Thursday, when I invited the congregation to participate, I ended up washing everyone’s feet. I was grateful that it was only as small congregation of 30 or so. Yet it was a liberating task also. To have members who in our cultural contexts often place religious and spiritual leaders on a high status, allow me to wash their feet, meant to me that they were also allowing me to serve them and the community – as one of them. I noticed an old man was visibly moved as he watched me wash his wife’s feet. She was a woman who faithfully served in the church with little recognition.
At the end of the feet washing I was humbled when a senior deaconess in the church asked me to sit down and with gentleness and love proceeded to wash my feet. I was reduced to tears.
The washing of feet, when done out of love, is an amazing act of reconciliation and empowerment for both the person who washes and the person being washed. It is an intimate moment of non-verbally communicating love, respect and humility.
This is why the Methodist Church in Fiji has chosen the act of washing of the feet as part of its reconciliation process in its Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Christ performs a lowly task generally done by the lowliest servant in the household. We find in the pages of the gospels descriptions of how Jesus approached His relationship with God the Father. He was always submissive to the Father in everything. Beyond this, God the Father is the greatest servant in the universe. In our behalf, He sustains everything we depend on for our very lives.
In John 13:14, Christ says, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."
The common explanation for this is that it teaches us to learn humility by doing good for others, by doing acts of service or kindness for our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and the stranger.
The lesson is one of humble servant-leadership.
I am reminded of the saying: “Humility is a low door. To go through it, one must bend down enough to smell the ground. Dirt wears the scent of past lives and reminds us that death captures all in the end. This is what makes humility necessary.”
As we prepare to make important decisions on leadership this year, perhaps this is a message Jesus has for His people in Fiji.
You are welcome to come and have your feet washed and wash the feet of others at the Maundy Thursday service tomorrow (Thursday) at Dudley Church at 7pm. You are also invited to join in the Fiji Council of Churches’ Easter Sunday Resurrection and Reconciliation Concert at Ratu Sukuna Park from 2pm.
Let us remember that the message of Easter is the loving grace of God and the humble service and sacrifice of God’s dearly beloved Son, for the whole world.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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