The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
April 13, 2017
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Two years ago from this year's Easter Day, on the 16th of April, I was ordained into the Sacred Order of Deacons. At my ordination, I was blessed to have Fr Tony Lewis serve as the preacher -- some of you may know Fr Lewis as a friend of this parish and professor emeritus of my Southern home and training ground, Virginia Seminary.
In preparation for my anniversary as a Deacon, I read through his sermon manuscript. And once again, I was moved by his words and insight as scholar and priest.
At the conclusion of his sermon, Fr Lewis invited me to stand up and commissioned me with a “charge.” Turning to the familiar words of Bishop Frank Weston, Fr Lewis quoted the Bishop’s address at the Anglo-Catholic Congress:
“Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
I have known and carried these words with me since my earliest days in Anglicanism and have used the words of Bishop Frank Weston in classes and sermons, just as recent as this past Sunday. However, two years after my ordination, I have come to appreciate the complexity and the power behind Bishop Frank Weston’s words.
The charge to gird ourselves with the towel of Christ and seek those in the streets and attempt to wash their feet is not merely an invitation from a Bishop echoed in sermons and teachings like those of Fr Lewis, it is our opportunity to join in the practices of Christ. Our Lord washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of his love for them. The act of rolling up our sleeves and washing the feet of our friends, strangers, and even our enemies, is our response to God’s command that we love one another, as we have been loved by Christ. Participating in the ritual of foot washing, we join Jesus and his disciples in an act of love and fellowship.
In his days on earth, Jesus and his disciples would have walked for miles on end. As our Gospel stories so often tell us, Jesus and his disciples would have travelled all over Judea visiting the sick, the poor, and the needy. Their feet would have been blistered and even bloodied from long walks through the Judean terrain.
Yet our Lord does not let the appearance or smell caused by long travel stop him from washing the feet of those whom he loves. Our Lord is not stopped by the standards of our physical world, or societal roles that create a caste of those worthy and unworthy, nor is he stopped by earthly vanities, rather Jesus pours out his love for his disciples by pouring water over the feet of those whom he has loved.
Jesus’ love is made known to us in a simple act of humility and care. In our lives, Jesus’ love is made known to us again and again by the simplest act of love. The embrace of a person in the midst of hard day, a kiss from a loved one, the prayer and affirmation of a stranger who without knowing us sees our pain and struggle. Jesus’ love is made known to us in both in ordinary acts of kindness that recognizes our divine creation and existence. And week after week, day after day, Jesus’ love is made known to us in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Where God takes our ordinary bread and wine and physically transforms them into the extraordinary gift that is the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood.
Our Lord’s love calls us to seek out the parts of our humanity and the humanity of others that are bloodied and bruised. Our Lord’s love is a love that forces us to claim the vestment of Christ, a simple towel -- the only vestment, that we know of, our Lord ever wore. A simple towel to embrace the other, to reassure them that they are loved by us, and first and foremost, that they are loved by God.
While we are given the command to love as Christ loved us, we know that this command is not always easy. Speaking for myself, I know it is easier to love some people more than others. The obstacles that can prevent us from fully loving are not new nor a modern problem but as old as Jesus’ command.
In today’s reading from Saint Paul's letter, the Corinthians are reminded of our Lord’s command to take part in the breaking of the bread. If we read just a few verses beyond, we would find out that the poor have not been allowed to feast on the banquet, and have even been denied entrance into the house churches.
If we read through Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, we’d find a community struggling with our Lord’s command that we love one another, as we have been loved by Christ. Saint Paul, who had thought and converted many of the Corinthians into faith and freedom in Christ, now finds a community in turmoil. A community that prefers philosophical intellect, class and cultural privilege, lust and power over the primacy of love. We find a Christian community that struggles to truly embody and understand the teachings of our Lord. And it would be simple to point and distance ourselves from the Christians in Corinth, however, all it takes is for us to turn on the TV, pick up a paper, or walk through our city, and we would quickly realize that the divisions at Corinth have not disappeared.
The failure of the Corinthians, like our ownfailure to live up to Christ’s command, is the very reason for this day and for the days to come. Our failure to realize the divine imprint in all of God’s people is the reason for our Lord’s incarnation, his passion, and resurrection.
God’s first and ultimate gift for us is love. God’s love has taken shape in the creation of the world, in great covenants with the people of Israel, in kings and prophets, yet they were not enough.
And so God’s love took shape in a cross. And from the cross of Christ all true love flows, love which is God’s true gift for the world cannot be conquered or defeated. No matter how much we neglect God’s love or fail to live into that love, it is pour out for us so that our command may be attainable.
It is through God’s love that Saint Paul writes with boldness and certitude to the Corinthians about the primacy of love. Reminding them, and reminding us this day,
[that] Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. Amen.