Monday, April 6, 2015

The Fullness of Emptiness

Sermon for Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

The fullness of emptiness

We are gathered around these tables
to remember.
To remember that Jesus gathered with his disciples,
with those he loved,
even when he knew that suffering and heartache was ahead.

Maybe Jesus gathered with those he loved BECAUSE he knew
or at least suspected what was ahead.
Maybe he knew that time was short.

Jesus gathers with some of his closest friends
and gives them a mandate--this is what the word “maundy” means--
Mandatum is the Latin word.

Jesus says,
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.

Jesus gives a mandate. An order.
Today is not “Suggestion Thursday”;
today is Maundy Thursday.

Love one another as I have loved you.

I want to draw your attention to this icon.
It is best known as “The Last Supper”
but I like the Orthodox name,
which is the mystical supper or the supper of mystery.
A friend here in this parish gave me this icon from Greece.
it is a treasure to me.
It sits in my office here at the Cathedral
to remind me of the importance
of gathering together around the table.

Right next to the icon in my office sits a small wooden bowl
and a wooden spoon.
They were given to me by the Jubilee Justice ministries
on the day of my installation as your Dean.

The icon reminds me that our call is to gather around the table.
The wooden bowl and spoon remind me that we are also called
to go out into the world.
To feed the hungry and comfort the suffering.

Now there is an interesting story--a true story--
about this icon and this little wooden bowl.

I told you they sit together in my study--
on top of a low bookshelf.

One day a parishioner came by to speak with me
and she had her little granddaughter with her.
The granddaughter was around 4 years old.

So  we were talking, the grandmother and I,
when the little granddaughter hops up, races over to the bookshelf,
and flips the little wooden bowl upside down.
She then hurries back to the couch
and sits down next to her grandmother.
The little girl says not one word.

The grandmother apologizes,
I say it’s okay,
and the grandmother very patiently and politely goes over
and turns the bowl right side up.

We talk.
Again, the little granddaughter hops up,
goes over and turns the wooden bowl upside down.
yes, the grandmother gets up, goes over and turns the bowl
right side up.

This keeps happening.

Finally, the grandmother,
after turning the bowl right side up for about the seventh time,
“I think it’s time for us to go.”

We say goodbye and as they are heading out of my office,
the little grand daughter darts back in,
turns the bowl upside down--AGAIN--
and then stops and looks right at me,
pointing to the icon.
The little girl says,
“All their bowls are upside down on the table.”
And out she runs.

I look at the icon
and my eyes are opened to something I had never noticed before.
The little girl is absolutely right.
The bowls are all upside down on the table in front of Jesus
and his disciples.

But why?
I tried to find more information about this icon
but nothing was mentioned about the bowls.

It may be just an insignificant detail--
a random element of the icon--
though in truth there is seldom if ever anything random in an icon.

Is the meal over
and the bowls turned down
to say, “We are done” ?
Our time together is over, finished.

Or is the meal just beginning
and the bowls are waiting,
waiting to be turned
so that the bowls might be filled.
This is only the beginning of our breaking bread together.

Holy Week seems to me
the epitome
of simultaneous emptiness and fullness.

Jesus empties himself of everything.
His position, his power, his control--even his outer robe.

In letting go of his fullness,
Jesus releases everything---
he turns the bowl of his life upside down--
because he is filled
with all that really matters.

I see these upside down bowls
as the need we all have to let go, to empty ourselves.
When we let go,
when we empty ourselves,
there is hope that we, too, will be filled
with all that really matters.

By emptying ourselves of judgment or the need for revenge,
there is then room
to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

By letting go of our stubbornness, our pettiness, our self-righteousness,
space is created for love and for generosity.

We turn over the bowl that holds all our past hurts,
resentments and resistance,
so that we might be free
and filled with God’s mercy,
that amazing grace that God offers to each of us.

Every time I look at this icon,
I am grateful for a little girl, a child,
who showed me
the way it is this night,
gathered around a table for a mystical supper.

A little girl
who showed me the importance
of an upside down bowl.
Of letting go.
Of being empty so that we might be filled.

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