Isaiah 52:7 contains, for me, some of the most beautiful words in all of scripture: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion 'Your God reigns!' "
When I think about these words I am aware of the messengers that throughout the stories of the Bible brought news to God's people. I can imagine many of them running, as the Greek messengers of long ago. I can imagine them running, lungs bursting, sides hurting, throat parched and dry, sore feet - so very, very sore.
There were many different kinds of messages that these messengers brought. Sometimes the message was good news-a battle that had been fought and won. Sometimes the message was bad news and many times, in ancient days, when the messenger brought bad news, the messenger was killed. A messenger's fate was tied up with the content of the message that he was
I imagine that the feet of these messengers were far from beautiful. They were bruised and dry and peeling. They had sores on them from overuse. They were dirty and hot. They were far from beautiful. Yet, Isaiah the prophet spoke of the beautiful feet of the messengers. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.
This week is Holy Week and you may be wondering why we are examining this passage at all. It came to me as I was thinking about Maundy Thursday and its significance for us as Christians. It was on that Thursday night long ago when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It was on that Thursday night long ago when Jesus gave the commandment that we love one another.
The story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is the traditional Gospel passage for Maundy Thursday. It was the last Supper and, for Jesus, everything must have had deep and meaningful significance as he realized that in a little while he would not be with these, his disciples, and he would face the most difficult of circumstances alone.
Washing the feet was a traditional part of hospitality and was usually performed by the host. Jesus hosted his disciples at his meal and picked a basin of water and towel to wash the disciples' feet.
As Jesus washed each disciple's feet, he was lovingly nurturing and tending to those who would be the first messengers of the good news. He was making their feet beautiful, preparing them for the work of proclaiming this most important message. He made their feet fresh and clean and beautiful.
This night, which we call Maundy Thursday, originates from a Latin word "mandatum"-a mandate. Jesus gives a new commandment, "mandatum novum," to his disciples in context with the washing of the feet. He said: "A new commandment I give to you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one
In the face of arrest, suffering, and death, these words were the legacy that Jesus left his disciples-his last instructions. The message that they were to present to the world-to love one another would be to reflect the love of Jesus into this world.
These messengers were to bring the message of love and hope. This was the mandate, the new commandment.
On that night so long ago, Jesus gave that mandate to all disciples-you and me included. We are messengers. We bring good news, the good news of Christ's love for us, the good news that Christ empowers us to love one another.
We live in a world where bad news comes to us so much more than good news. In fact, it almost seems strange when we hear good news on our news reports.
In fact this week in April is synonymous with bad news. It was on the 19th of April that the tragedy of the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, occurred, in which many died. A year after that on the 19th of April we were horrified when we heard the news that the federal building in Oklahoma had been bombed and so, so many innocent people of all ages lost their lives.
On the 20th of April in 1999 the high school in Columbine, Col., was the scene of another tragedy in which more innocent people were killed. Last year, the bombing during the Boston Marathon shocked us. And for me, the 20th of April will always bring the reminder to me of my father's death in 2001.
Maybe, in those moments when Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples, he was fully aware of how the world would come to hear more bad news than good news. Maybe Jesus was fully aware of these clouds that hang over us and cause us fear and anger and pain and suffering.
Maybe Jesus was aware that it would not be only tragic news that would be bad news for us. Maybe Jesus was aware that bad news comes in the form of unemployment and illness. Maybe Jesus was aware that bad news would come in the form of divorce and loss of loved ones. Maybe Jesus knew that bad news would come through misuse of money and through drugs. Maybe Jesus knew that bad news would come in the way of hunger and poverty and injustice. Maybe Jesus knew in those moments that bad news comes in the form of losing one's way in the world, or when feelings are hurt, or through sharp unkind words that do not need to be said.
In the midst of all that he would face, Jesus was very concerned about his followers in all times of history. So Jesus mandated that we would be messengers-that in the midst of all this bad news, there is the good news that hatred is not our only choice.
There is love.
The love that we can have for each other is not something that we have to conjure up for ourselves. It is not something that we have to create out of nothing. It is already here, already present in Christ's love for us, in Christ's love for the world.
In the simple act of washing his disciples' feet, Jesus was conveying this message to them.
In our tradition, it is the ritual of Maundy Thursday that speaks most to us of the love that Jesus has for us. For it was on that night, when Jesus looked into the eyes of his disciples, that he gave them and us a meal to remind us of the great sacrifice of love that he made on our behalf.
It is also a meal that we are to share together in love for each other, for we cannot gather around this table and partake of this bread and cup without the love of Jesus Christ surrounding us. And in receiving the bread and the cup, we are not only reminded of Jesus Christ's love for us, we are strengthened to be messengers who bring good news of Christ's love for the world.
To God alone be glory!
On the parish calendar:
Reminder: The Feinstein Foundation will match a portion of the donations made to Crosslines during March and April. Non-perishable food items will count if they are marked with the words "Feinstein Challenge." On checks, be sure to write "Feinstein Challenge" on the memo line. Additional information appeared in the Upshur Cooperative Parish newsletter.
Stations of the Cross, today, open for the public to walk, 11 a.m.1 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC
Easter Sunrise Services, Sunday, 7 a.m., Chapel Hill UMC, followed by breakfast; 7 a.m., Tennerton UMC, followed by breakfast; 7 a.m. (Indoor), Hacker Valley UMC
Spring Revival, WednesdayFriday, April 30May 2, Hacker Valley UMC. Special preaching and music each evening at 6:30 p.m.
Church Women United covered dish luncheon, Friday, May 2, noon, First UMC.
Baked Steak Dinner, Friday, May 2, 4:307 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC. Fundraiser for 2014 mission trip. Cost: $10 for age 8 and up, $5 for children under 8, or a half portion.
Celebration of Mission Event (COME) is May 3, 10 a.m.1 p.m., Quiet Dell UMC. Churches should be collecting donations and holding fundraisers now.