by Sister Martha Westwater
The Lenten season was profoundly moving this year not only because it coincided with the Pandemic Coronavirus but also because of the reflections offered by Sisters Mary Ann Connolly and Judy Park. At the beginning of Lent Mary Ann offered a prayer on Simon of Cyrene and on Good Friday Judy challenged us to meet Jesus at the Stations of the Cross. But the reflection offered by both Sisters Mary Ann and Judy on Holy Thursday afternoon spoke eloquently to me as a Halifax Sister of Charity. In guiding us to reflect on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, they exposed the deep significance of our congregation’s symbol.
Because we were not allowed in chapel where the prayer was televised, the prohibition engaged us in a deeper solitude alone in our rooms, and we experienced a bit of the pain and suffering which isolation engendered at this time of social distancing. The service began with a song by Michael Card, “The Basin and the Towel”; the lyrics reminded us that it is “the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel” that symbolize “the call to community.”
We were then invited to enter into prayer by first consciously putting ourselves into our own personal comfort zone, releasing those restraining tensions and anxieties imposed by the pandemic. We were guided into the upper room, to sit around the table, to look at the other disciples, and then to watch Jesus taking off his cloak, tying a towel around his waist and picking up the basin and the towel. He kneels and washes the dust-stained, tired, toughened feet of his friends. We hear the water being poured, the splash as it hits the basin, the voice of Peter as he objects to this menial office undertaken by the Master. And then we come to the heart of the matter. How do I respond when Jesus washes my feet?
Do you understand what I just did for you?
You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,
And fittingly enough, for that is what I am.
But if I washed your feet – I who am Teacher and Lord –
Then you must wash each other’s feet.
As I have done, so you must do.
We were left in the upper room for a five minute period of utter silence.
The prayers of the faithful which followed the silence encompassed the whole world community suffering from the corona virus: doctors, nurses, health care professionals, essential workers and a moving prayer for our administrators, Lori Ferrante and Sister Judith Breen “as they love and guide us through this time, implementing the daily-changing regulations, ensuring staffing, advocating for equipment etc.”
But perhaps it was the image of the bowl and towel that became imprinted on my mind. I always understood these images of service, but I didn’t comprehend them as symbols of community. Yet our congregational medallion adds only the cross to the bowl and towel. As Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, so must we put the good of all before the individual self. Do I pour comforting water of kind words to the grief-stricken? Seek out the lonely? Visit the depressed? Do I warm with the tender towel of thoughtful acts when disagreements surface, when complaining is the order of the day? Do I really understand what Jesus did when he put himself at the service of community whether it be the larger community of the world, the congregation, or the smaller group with whom we share life? Do I want to live communally? Do I appreciate “the will of the water and the tenderness of the towel”?
Good Afternoon! We gather today, remembering that first Holy Thursday and the example of service given to us by Jesus. It is no wonder that at his Last Supper Jesus would perform the ultimate example of service for his disciples. In this time of social distancing, we desire to enter into the washing of the feet through meditation. This afternoon, we will be invited into a guided imagery of that first Holy Thursday.
Let us begin with a prayer for our world community in this time of pandemic… found on your handout
A Prayer for the Pandemic
Loving God, your desire is for our wholeness and well-being.
We hold in tenderness and prayer the collective suffering of our world at this time.
We grieve precious lives lost and vulnerable lives threatened.
We ache for ourselves and our neighbors, standing before an uncertain future.
We pray: May love, not fear, go viral.
Inspire our leaders to discern and choose wisely, aligned with the common good.
Help us to practice social distancing and reveal to us new and creative ways
to come together in spirit and in solidarity.
Call us to profound trust in your faithful presence,
You, the God who does not abandon. Amen!
So, let us begin… Find a comfortable position and relax. Let us take a few moments of silence to center ourselves as we unite our hearts with so many across our globe who are in need of our prayers at this time. (pause) Let us listen to today’s Gospel from John, followed by the song, The Basin and the Towel. We will then move into a meditation and guided imagery…
Gospel: John 13: 1 – 15
Song: The Basin and the Towel
Let us now enter into meditation: Choose your meditation posture. Choose to either soften your gaze or close your eyes. Be conscious of how you are holding your hands, your thoughts… Be here in this present moment.
You may want to settle in to a meditation practice that is comfortable and familiar to you, or you may want to follow along with this breathing practice.
If and only if it is comfortable, follow along my guidance of the breath:
Take a long slow deep breath in,
Now let it out,
Inhale, drawing life in… and now release the breath
Inhale again with consciousness, now exhale with consciousness,
suspending the breath.
Inhale and breathe naturally. Allow yourself to be breathed by God.
In times of distress, our bodies naturally tense up as part of our fight, flight, freeze response. This now is a time of softening. Release any tension you are experiencing. Become aware of any place that feels tight and breathe into it, un-clenching. You are safe!
Let go of all the distractions and let all worries fly away as we prepare to enter the upper room and encounter Jesus and his friends as they gather for their last supper… Now Imagine (Pause)
You are in a very simple room.
You are sitting at a table with food and friends.
Jesus is there.
Peter, John, and all the other Apostles are there, too.
You are remembering the Passover together.
You are nervous about what will happen to Jesus during this festival. (Pause)
Sit back and look around the table.
How does it feel to be with friends, feeling these mixed emotions? (Pause)
Notice Jesus getting up.
He takes his cloak off,
ties a towel around his waist.
He fills a bowl with water.
He walks over to Peter and kneels down.
Watch Peter’s face and the interaction between the two of them as Jesus washes Peter’s feet. (Pause)
What are you hearing in the room? (Pause)
What emotion does Peter’s face reveal? (Pause)
How do you think Peter’s heart feels? (Pause)
The next thing you know Jesus is picking up the bowl.
Follow him with your eyes, moving around the table.
He is coming towards you.
He kneels down.
He looks into your eyes.
Reaches for your foot. (Pause)
You can hear the water hit the basin as it washes over your foot…
You are aware of the silence as everyone looks on
You feel the coolness of the water as it touches your foot…
You feel the warmth of the towel and the warmth of Jesus’ hand…
Spend some time with Jesus in this sacred act of foot washing. (Pause)
Jesus stands up in front of you.
He moves to the person sitting next to you.
You are left there, in your seat, with your thoughts from your personal encounter with Jesus. (Pause)
What emotions rise within you? (Pause)
What would you like to say to Jesus? (Pause)
Be aware of what you are feeling! (Pause)
Jesus finishes with the last person at the table.
He discards the water.
Unties the towel.
Puts on his cloak.
And sits down at the table.
He takes some time to look around at the expressions of those who are there. (Pause)
What do you think Jesus’ friends are feeling? (Pause)
Do you think they understand what he has done?
Are they open to understand? (Pause)
Are you open to understand? (Pause)
Jesus looks around at all of you.
He says: “Do you understand what I just did for you?”
You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’
and fittingly enough, for that is what I am.
But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—
then you must wash each other’s feet.
As I have done, so you must do.” (Pause)
Relax and sink into these words. (Pause)
In a moment you will hear a chime, calling you to sit in silent stillness for 5 minutes… uniting our hearts with so many around our world… reflecting on what Jesus’ words and actions mean for our world.
Let us hold the pain and suffering of all those who are struggling at this time of pandemic. And in our holding, let us send love, prayers and healing energy to those in need.
After the 5 minutes you will hear another chime signaling the end of the mediation. We will then move into Prayers of the Faithful and a closing song.
Take a moment to come back to the present moment.
Prayers of the Faithful: We can alternate the prayers of the faithful. (I will do the bold and you can do that which is not bolded)
Closing Song of the Lord’s Command
Amen! Let us continue to be in this space of connection with the world and with one another as we walk these holy days to the foot of the cross and toward a New Easter! Amen and blessings to all!