I’ve been studying Spanish. There are wonderful free programs online and apps available for phones that allow you to study a variety of languages. I learn by translating from English to Spanish, from Spanish to English, and occasionally, I’m called to speak the language into my phone. I thought the hardest part would be remembering words or following quickly spoken sentences. I was wrong.
The hardest part of learning a language is the embarrassment of speaking it aloud, when I’m sure that it will be wrong and that even if I get the words right, I will sound foolish. Since then, I’ve been conscious of the bravery of folks who learn to speak English. Every heavily accented and broken sentence is an act of courage.
The process has made me think about the way we learn our faith. Studying the Bible, delving deeper into worship, developing your spiritual practice, and thinking about the interaction of faith and life can all feel odd at first. But learning anything feels a little like failure and a little like faking it. Recognize it for what it is, the human experience. We’re all learning. We’re all trying. We’ll all need to try again.
As proof, I’ll leave you with this anecdote from author, Neil Gaiman:
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’
And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
The Following is a modified version of my reflections on Maundy Thursday this year:
I wasn’t ready for Maundy Thursday to come, in a million ways. I’m often particularly faithful during Lent, ready to be open to God, conscious of the coming of Good Friday, of the looming cross. Not this year, I must admit. Probably because Easter has come to us so early, maybe because of our late season snow, or because there was a bit more to do this year and we were dealing with family illness that broke the already chaotic rhythm of our days.
I’m sure the disciples weren’t ready for it either. By the last supper, Jesus has told them what is coming. But what does that mean? A year, two years, ten? Jesus’ entire ministry fits into either one year or three depending on how you map the days in the gospels. Either way, it isn’t long. Not long when you’ve left your life and home, not long when you thought your future would be intertwined with Christ’s. And yet, already, their last night together has come.
I’ve had other moments like that, long years of friendship with someone sick as long as I’ve known them, but suddenly, suddenly they’ve passed away. I always knew it would come. But how could it have possibly come already, a horrible surprise that I’ve known forever.
Of course, because they weren’t expecting it yet….already, the disciples heard words that night about Christ’s body and blood that went over their heads, heard accusations of denial that were completely unbelievable. Jesus, again being illusive with meaning and purpose. Jesus, mentioning again a day that would someday, but never come.
What I know about moments like that is that I don’t know they exist until they’ve passed and I look back on times that seemed ordinary and can glimpse the wonder and holiness that was there without my notice.
As I reflect on the moments of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I am conscious that much of what occurred feel as if they were placed there for us, marking spots of extraordinary grace, powerful wisdom, unimaginable love that we could never have seen if we’d been by Jesus’ side. They only exist as such precious moments in our memory and reflections.
Consider the footwashing: giving us such vibrant images of our servant savior, what love looks like, what intimacy means. In the ancient Church, foot-washing became the ritual by which the Lenten journey of return of those who had betrayed the Lord, or lost their way as disciples, was completed in a closing act of reconciliation, after which those making this return journey could celebrate the Passover of the Lord together with all the faithful.
The bread and cup are touchpoints of holiness, too. Author Jan Richardson writes, “In its own way, … sharing a table calls us to a radical intimacy. To some of us it may seem less risky than footwashing, may cause less overt squirming, but it demands no less of us.” After all, here is a meal that requires us to expand the table of our hearts to all who believe.
As we draw ourselves to the table each week, may we be present to it, but in the way we might to a ritual that reminds us of the last time we did something special with someone, with a lingering bittersweet fondness for our beloved.
Please join us this Sunday at 11 am for worship with communion. All who believe in Jesus are invited to his table.
Rev. Jana Quisenberry is the minister at Brightwood Christian Church. She's an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, She now resides in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, two children, and dog, Sookie. Pastor Jana loves the church, science fiction, and coffee.
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