{This is a homily, spoken April 9, 2013 in the evening Adoration service at the little stone church. It arises out of that worship context, but perhaps there are places in your own life where the gospel and your worship practices call into question your relationships, and what it means to be a body, both individual and communal.}

John 20:19-31 – Jesus and Thomas


He comes to them fresh from the dead.

It is the evening of that morning, the one when breath came back into his lungs, and before the light, he slipped from where they had laid him.

He comes to them bearing fresh wounds – crucified hands, a sword-split side – and not only bearing, but revealing.

He offers them the evidence in his body, and confronts them with the unspoken, yet blatant truth:

“You crucified me.”


The moment is loaded with the history of those hands.

Those hands have touched to heal the broken within their sight, and touched to bless children.

Just nights ago, those hands took bread and breaking it, said “this is my body,” passed a cup saying “this is my blood.”

He dipped his hand in a bowl with the hand of his friend to reveal who would betray him.

And those hands had taken both feet of each man as he stooped below them and washed them in a stunning act of servanthood, instruction, and love.


“You crucified me.

You betrayed me, you denied me, you abandoned me…”


Unspoken accusations born of love and of history together…


But what he speaks is

“Peace be with you.”




And then, he breathes on them.

As both the breathed into and the breathing,

as both enfleshed man and incarnate God,

he breathes on them, out of his lungs, out of his mouth, onto their skin, into their midst,

bodily breath – and yet,

the breath of God.


The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God, body dead and laid in the dust of the a new tomb, sometime in the darkness of that morning took breath back unto himself, and he became once again a living being.

The Lord God, crucified and risen, formed a body from hiding fearful men who had betrayed him, rejected him, abandoned him – men who were truly the dust of the earth, and Jesus breathed upon them the breath of life…

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says…

and they became,

and we with them,

a living being.

The first Adam has passed, the second Adam has come.

And here, in the moments of confrontation, but reconciliation, he takes the scattered and disoriented to himself, and with crucified hands forms and re-creates them,

 one body.


“If you forgive the sins of any,” he says, “they are forgiven. And if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”



But Thomas…

is not with them.


The writer of the gospel never tells us where Thomas is, and I cannot help but wonder at the gravity of the word “with.”

He is not with them.

Perhaps “with” means so much more than physical proximity. His absence among them is telling.


Nothing had turned out the way they had hoped. Their would-be revolutionary Messiah was handed over, beaten, flogged, executed. They each had betrayed him, abandoned him, let him die while they lived. They had betrayed one another’s trust. One had even handed him over for the price of a slave, and after a failed attempt to take it all back, hung himself.

In the face of trauma after trauma, it is remarkable that the night of the resurrection Jesus finds as many of them as he does together in one room.

Could it be that Thomas cannot bear to be with them?

Could it be that in all that is unspeakable about how it happened,

in his own sense of betrayal by those he’d walked life with,

 and in his deep wrenching shame for his complicity in the crime against his friend and his Lord, he distances?

Would you distance?

He is not with them

in myriad ways.


His language when they find him and say “We have seen the Lord” is strong and provocative.

“Unless I touch the wounds, unless I put my hands into them, I will never believe!”


Thomas often gets pigeon-holed as the doubting one who asks for the empirical evidence.

In Caravaggio’s painting of this scene, the expression on Thomas’s face as Jesus guides his finger into the sword wound in his side is captured as pure skepticism.


As much as I love this painting – truly, it is one of my favorites, for the way Jesus is depicted – I cannot help but see in this story and in Thomas something else.

Is Thomas a mere skeptic?

Or is he undone, is he himself betrayed…

Is he running desperately from a former life marked by devastation…

Is this the anger of grief?

In his words, I see less doubt that Jesus could resurrect from the dead, and more-so a refusal to let his friends have any credibility in his sight.

This is not “I can’t believe.”

This is “I cannot believe you.”


Time passes, and Jesus finds them once more in hiding, but this time Thomas is with them. Jesus offers them peace, and then in love confronts Thomas.

“Thomas, come close. Bring your body to mine. Do you need to touch me in order to believe them? Touch me. Reach your fingers here to my crucified hands. Put your hand into my body through the place the spear entered.

“Thomas, you also crucified me.

“Do not disbelieve their testimony, but believe.”

It is a stunning act of vulnerability as Jesus invites Thomas into his body.

And in the confrontation, Jesus lays Thomas bare, exposing the rift between he and the other men. In a provocative act of love, Jesus meets Thomas at the deepest point of disorientation and pain over the splintering of a life he had hoped for. He meets him in the place of broken trust, in the “I will never.”

Jesus waits, and Thomas sees,

but does not touch,

and astonished at what Jesus is inviting, though it is the very thing Thomas himself insisted he needed, he cries out “My Lord, and my God!”

Jesus, gently mocking, says “do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.”

Jesus in creating them as one body entrusts to them the story, and here, to Thomas and to us, he affirms their credibility. Blessed are we who have not seen, but believe them.


Perhaps you can relate to Thomas.

After being present in this community for five years, some of my deepest friendships are marked by the rhythm of gathering in this place to worship together.

I sense this is true for many of you as well. All around you are people your lives are bound up with in love.

Just as in the way life in a fleshed body can be awkward, and embarrassing, and marked by memory,

life as a communal enfleshed body comes with deep challenges.

Here, in our bodily exchanges as we worship, we are confronted with the truth of what our life together is – surely the unspeakable beauty and goodness, but also what we have done, and what has been done to us,

and what we do to one another.


I can relate to Thomas, for it is here, among you all whom I love, where I am faced with my own running away, and the violence and brokenness woven all through me.

 Over time, on occasion I have caught myself, not unlike Thomas, keeping distance from one person or another during passing the peace.

I wasn’t ready to confront bodily the truth that I am hurt.

Or I wasn’t ready to offer not a shaky truce, but full and ripe peace between us.

Or, I hurt you, and I have known it, but my pride or my shame won’t let me be vulnerable to receive your forgiveness.

Or, frankly life in a body is just plain awkward and vulnerable, and perhaps because of sins against myself, or because of my own self-rejection, I have been unsure of myself.

Sometimes, I have come to the table, fearful that there were eyes behind me boring holes in my back, my own conscience accusing me, for like Thomas, I have not been with some of you. And could I rightfully take of the body and blood of Christ, without discerning the body and the bodies in my midst?

It is here – when the liturgy is provocative, and Jesus says “come touch me,” – that his words about how if we forgive, sins are forgiven, and if we retain sins, they are retained, play out between us.

It is here – in the peace and at the table – where I am often fully exposed to myself, and see where I am connected and disconnected, loving and unloving, in relationship. Perhaps, I am not alone in this.


Tonight, the way of resurrection and life as new creation in one body is marked out in the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands. We will be invited to confront and to speak peace, breathing life back into one another where we have been deflated by the realities of living in bodies as one body.

The words of our worship will echo the words of Jesus as he appears to his disciples: Peace be with you.

And we will move into the aisles and across pew backs to offer one another the sign of peace, the whole of us shifting, the whole of us quite literally a living being.

We will come as fumbling, sinning and sinned-against bodies, glorious and resurrecting bodies, to confront one another in the flesh with the truth that our lives are bound up together.

Eyes will connect, and personal space will be forgotten as arms wrap and bodies touch, words of divine peace being spoken through the lips of human mouths.


May it be filled with the holy awkwardness of being enfleshed. May there be peace… and truth where there is not-peace.

If there is not peace, may we be honest with ourselves and one another, not forcing peace before it is ripe, but living in the tension of what it means to be a body in dis-unity, yet still showing up to one another.

The text uncomfortably suggests that Jesus also gave permission to retain the sins of another – but with retaining should come the somber and painful sense of deep discord within.

Tonight, if you retain the sins of another, I long for you to feel it to your core, and for inner disorientation to propel you back toward mutual flourishing and wholeness together. May you be met by Jesus himself at the very point of broken trust and pain, and asked to put your hand into his side, to touch him and keep faith with one another.

And may we remember that we offer one another nothing less than the peace of Christ.


And tonight, the way of the new creation is marked out in the bread and the cup, the body and the blood.

As you come discerning the body, may you recognize in the hands extending you bread and cup the resurrected hands of Christ himself.

May you come knowing how you are his beloved friend and disciple whom he would confront with the truth and then offer you peace,


for he offers you peace.


And may you come like Thomas, needing and honest, and hear the invitation of Jesus to you: Touch me. Handle me. Put your fingers in the marks and find the way to wholeness and reconciliation marked out for you.

Put your hand into my side, into my body, and by mystery I will pull you the rest of the way in, and make you me, my body of reconciliation in the world.

And may you, having been met in your deepest places of need, and challenged by the provocative gospel we live together, exclaim like Thomas “My Lord, and My God!”





“‘It’s gonna hurt, now… Anything dead coming back to life hurts.’ A truth for all times.” ~ Toni Morrison, in Beloved

It was one of those places I never expected to find myself. As my befuddled doctor asked me a day or so in, “what is a good girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Honestly, I didn’t really know.

All I knew is that life had become unbearable, and one night late I found myself in Chicago standing on the curb under the streetlights, tempting traffic.

And what was a good girl like me doing in a place like thatBecause I surely had never been there before either, facing my end.

But it happens.

And you probably need to know that.

So I came home to Tennessee, and I made the phone calls, and with them the startling admissions. And one Tuesday morning last July, a friend walked me into the psychiatric hospital for help, where I stayed for seven days.

I wish I could say that was the end of the struggle for me. It took months of hard work, a lot more nights like the one in Chicago, and one more hospital stay before I began to turn the corner. I have mostly made the turn, though on occasion I still have fleeting thoughts of my end.

Yesterday morning, in the very early hours after a night with three hours of sleep, I stumbled up from slumber feeling half dead, and I don’t know why, but in the dark I grabbed for the story of the empty tomb, and found the one where Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus til he says her name, and I came undone weeping.

She comes to the tomb and she can’t find the body. The men dressed in white appear, and she says “what have you done with the body of my Lord? Tell me where you have taken him.”

And somehow that part made me weep the hardest.

I think I was right with her. Except the body I found missing from the tomb

was my own.

I don’t know how the story goes for others who have struggled with the dark, but for me, there are days I have felt like a hundred nights I have wanted to die, and a hundred mornings I have woken surprised to find out I was still alive.

I want to be clear that “want” does not mean want. What I really wanted was a different life, one without the wounds, one without the complications, one without the fingerprints of trauma. I was carrying so much. I know now that I wasn’t weak. I merely wasn’t made to carry such weight. A human being with limits, I had reached and exceeded them. So it was never “want” in the sense that I thought it would be great. It was the desperation of not being able to see past a few hours from now, and the sense that I was being driven to finality by something unnameable but undeniably in me.

I can’t wish the psychiatric hospital on anyone. Nor crippling depression. Nor the absence of will to live.

But I also must confess that even there, there was beauty.

I never attempted suicide. I came very close a handful of times. But in the hospital with me were those who had. Sane people, good people, whose lives had gotten out of control til they could no longer hope. Each their own stories, each their own rescues and saving graces.

I came in completely shut down. The first evening I spent in my room staring at the peach wall. Anyone who dared to speak to me saw me come unraveled weeping. But the second day, others came around me in compassion, others who had been there in some cases only a day or so longer than I had. And part of the disorientation of the first full day was the realization that I wasn’t in the psych ward, but the sane ward. I was surrounded by people who in that protected space with their immediate burdens lifted, with the support of staff and medical intervention, were entirely normal, except they didn’t have shoelaces.

By my second full day, I began to understand, for I was seeing the miracle with my own eyes. Someone would come in completely shut down having tried to kill themselves the night before. The first night would be hell. They would be shocked to find themselves first of all, alive, and second of all, in the worst possible place they could imagine being alive in. But with three sets of clothes, hospital shampoo, time to rest, a bit of therapy, a bit of medication, and a ton of compassion from all around them who had lived through the same thing, they began to come back to life.

It was like watching rapid resurrection.

One afternoon, four of us played ping-pong. But of course, we didn’t actually know how to play ping-pong by the rules, and truly it was funner to play with physics and see if we could get the ball into one another’s face. She had been caught in the act of committing suicide and brought in in cuffs by the police. One of the men had been found nearly dead, and was saved. The other was like me, and hadn’t attempted, but had come very close. In the midst of raucous laughter where regular pee breaks were necessary, I stopped mid-game to realize how

we almost weren’t there, that very moment.

We in some sense were the walking dead.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh hell, where is your victory?

It was nearly unbelievable, to see so clearly before me one Lazarus after another, except for us, Jesus didn’t wait four days. For some of us, he caught us just in the nick of time.

I don’t know why, but somehow the resurrection of Jesus completely undid me over the course of this weekend so that I was staring myself in the face. His body wasn’t in the tomb, but neither was mine.

And after those hundred nights and mornings, it feels like deep and utter miracle.

I have no idea if the coming back to life for him hurt at all.

But for me, these eight months have hurt deeply as a soul and body which had all but given up found themselves still alive, together in one piece, and grasping desperately for hope from the outside because no hope was left within.

There are places that died in me, innocence I will never get back. There were hopes and dreams that died. There were perhaps the demons of self-hatred and rejection which have been dying their slow deaths for months. But there are also places that are resurrecting. To plan a month from now, to imagine three months from now, is complete and utter gift. There were days I couldn’t imagine the next morning. Hope is alive and gaining steam.

But it is precisely hope coming back to life which has hurt the most, for to hope is to be utterly vulnerable in waiting for things out of my own control.

And love has come back to life, excruciating and glorious and messy.

It’s only by grace and the deep love of others that I am here, because when I was there, they were there too loving me through.

Ohhh, sometimes, I feel like shouting glory, glory, glory…

Were you there?

I felt as if I were there.

“The clock ticks slowly on Holy Saturday, pressing reactionaries beyond their capacities. It was a day fashioned for handwringing.” -Anonymous

Last evening, I attended Tenebrae for the first time. I’m so new to liturgical time that I sometimes discover traditions I didn’t even know existed. Tenebrae was like that.

I realized that what we do at the little stone church on Tuesday nights, the stripping of the altar, is sort of a shortened version. But the long version last evening at another local church was lovely: the story so poignantly told; an organ and a glorious chancel choir that filled me with chills as if it were Easter morning and I myself in my flesh was experiencing resurrection, not Good Friday as we kill Jesus; and the dark veil over the cross, followed by a dark in that space so powerful and overwhelming as we sang into the night around us, just our voices, Were You There?.

Ohhh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

And that it did.

I came home longing so deeply for the disciples to just stay awake, just pray with him a little while in the garden, just don’t fail him. Not this night.

I wanted so much for Peter to get it, quit posturing, admit his weakness, be on his knees next to Jesus in that garden arguing with the Father over Jesus’s life, being like Abraham when he bargained over Sodom and Gomorrah, acting as did Moses when he argued with Yahweh to not destroy the people. What if Peter had said, “Father, don’t you remember? This one, this man my friend, he’s the one you descended on; he’s the one of whom your voice said ‘this is my beloved son.'” Inside, I want to say Get it, Peter! Argue with God. Jesus said all things are possible, God could take the cup. There must have been another way possible. Please… please.

And I ached for Judas not to hang himself, but to believe that Jesus would resurrect, and that he would be utterly forgiven. Of course he sinned, of course he did the worst thing we can imagine, but grace was just about to break through. Just… If he could’ve waited just a few more days…

I woke in the early morning hours from nightmares, and as my eyes focused on the face of my cell phone and the time, I was relieved that I had woken since I realized I had forgotten to set my alarm last night, and got up for some reason thinking it was Easter morning, and perhaps I could catch a sunrise service…

…but today’s not Easter.


Darn. I have an entire day to wait through.

Perhaps I am nutty. I guess I end up rushing into these sorts of things with all the gusto and intensity of someone gaga over a certain sports team, or someone who finds deep and utter meaning in knocking out 26.2 miles on foot. I’m a hopeless liturgy geek, having discovered these traditions late. Like someone who can’t focus on anything else the weekend of the Super Bowl, I have been a restless and perhaps neurotic nut today trying to buckle myself down and get stuff done in the midst of waiting for tomorrow, and mulling over the lectionary play by play, cursing the disciples, and remembering that I have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight, and that honestly who knows if I wouldn’t have done things just as hurtful as they.

It truly has been a day of hand-wringing.

Coming late to liturgy, and also to ecumenism, and also finding myself recently single, I have started in the past few years to reach for traditions that are meaningful to me centered around the seasons. One I discovered a few years ago was Greek Easter Bread, or Tsoureki (also known as Lampropsomo – “bright light bread”). This is my third year making it.

Turns out that bread-kneading and hand-wringing aren’t too different, and it for today seemed like an embodied practice of the wringing going on in my soul as I have tried to wait patiently for tomorrow, the waking to birds and coming light to find that he has slipped out of the tomb and away quietly in the night.

If you’ve never tried this bread, you simply must. It’s wonderful. The recipe I have (which I have tweaked quite a bit) calls for orange zest, cardamom, vanilla, and brandy. I added orange blossom water and cloves this time too, along with milk and butter for some of the water. After it is risen, I’ll punch it down, divide the dough into ropes, and braid it. After it rises the second time, I’ll brush it with a mix of egg, brandy, and orange, and add slivered almonds before baking it.

The fragrance was utterly amazing as I kneaded it, like blooming magnolias I once smelled in Mississippi in the balmy, heavy heat, moving me to close my eyes and just take it in. And my kitchen windows are open, because it has been warm here, and the fresh air was also wonderful. It made me think of the women preparing their spices to go to the tomb to prepare his body, though they would’ve waited til night fall, this being technically the Sabbath. But still…

A day fashioned for hand-wringing…

I wonder what the significance of that is, what hand-wringing teaches us about ourselves, what restlessness does.

In the trauma of yesterday, I imagine they would have forgotten his words about resurrection. I love for instance the line Cleopas and his companion say on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walking with: “We had hoped…”

They had forgotten.

So Saturday wasn’t for them quite the waiting it is for us.

But then, I wonder if it is in some ways, for we forget details of resurrection all the time. Jesus will slip from the tomb in the night, but what in us will slip with him? What stones will we be surprised to find rolled away? What sins gone, what wounds healed, what of us revived?

The waiting of today has been hard, but tomorrow is coming…

Come with me into the story. Imagine with me. Open your body to be there in that place.

It is early evening. The cool air moving through the open window of that upper room blows quietly through.

Can you feel it? It weaves through your hair, and teases goosebumps from your skin.

You and these students, journeymen of a way of life, have learned together under him for three years now. And you are an unlikely group, bound together by this man.

It is dinner and the conversations are intimate and lively. Mouths speak, full of bread, pausing to raise the cup to lips now and then. Arms reach, and laughter punctuates the atmosphere in the room. Two argue at one end of the table, in a heated debate about something weighty, maybe history or is it religion? No matter – both are convinced how they are right. They are always convinced how they are right.

The volume of the room is loud, four – or is it five? – conversations roaring at once.

You reach for bread. Can you smell its earthy saltiness and the pungent musk of skin in such close quarters? Does the aroma of the cup as you drink move you to memory of other dinners?

The night stretches on and no one notices that he has stepped away until you realize that he is at your feet, half-clothed and with water in a basin.

At your feet.

What do you feel?

Are you confused? Are you embarrassed? Can you bear to look at him?

He says “you are clean; but not all of you.” Are you clean?

He’s really going to do it; he’s going to wash your feet and he shouldn’t be the one doing this, because he teaches you, but he reaches for your foot anyway.

What happens? Do you give it to him? Or does he take it? Do you fight some impulse in your leg to jerk away or do you relax in surrender?

Are you self-conscious?

What happens in your face? Do your eyes close? Or do you watch him? Or maybe, do you feel heat spill into your cheeks like an egg breaking under your skin? How do you hold your mouth? Are you breathing still and do you feel your heart beat harder? Or does it threaten to stop beating?

He slides your first foot into the basin, and with both of his hands he smooths your skin with the wet. Water beads roll off, and using his hands he pours more on, washing… washing.

How is the water? Is it cool? Is it warm? Or do you even notice? Does it have a certain scent or can you smell the dampness in the air? Or do you even notice?

How is his pressure upon your skin? As he washes, pressing his fingers to your soles… and your soul… is he firm, or is it light and fluid touch? Does he shake or is he steady? What is the message of his touch?

What are the words moving through your mind?

You sense eyes, and look to see him watching you as he washes. How do your insides respond? Do you flutter or does your gut twist in discomfort and embarrassment? Are you angry with him? Or do you feel loved? If you had to speak in that moment, what words would you say? Or, would having to speak be a certain kind of devastation?

He lifts your foot from the water, and wraps it in the towel that clothes his waist. What kind of towel is it? What is the texture? What is the color? And how does he do it? Does he fold it neatly across the top of your foot? Or does he bunch it in handfuls?

He reaches for your other foot and repeats his actions.

Does he say anything as he washes? What does his voice sound like, and what are the words he chooses? If he is silent, what does his body say to you with its language?

Your washing is finished and he moves to your fellow student.

What do you feel? Are you relieved that it is finished? Do you long for more washing? What do you do next – do you return to conversation? Do you return to the food on your plate? Do you smile or do you weep, or do you sit in silence?

When he says to offer this to one another, what is the “this”?


{Find part 3 here}

Thirty pieces of silver…

Thirty… thirty… thirty.


Ten percent of what I could’ve had for that whore’s perfume. Expletives.


Synagogue. Hard bargain, and I don’t like their mocking.

But it’s near time he gets his a little. All these miracles, always seen, always noticed, glory, glory, glory.


Passover. How many times have I been passed over?

Messiah. Christ. Who do you say that I am? 

Raising Lazarus, whore, Hosanna, hosanna. KING!!!


Oh Peter. You fool. What a dastard fool. Wash your whole body. Extreme, don’t you think?

Thirty, thirty…

They could give me more. I will ask them for more. I’ll insist. They have it, I know it. I’ll just insist.

Clean, but not all of you…

Not all of me, like Peter… only feet.

Thirty, th…

Breathe. In, then out, in then out. Low profile. Distance yourself from his touch. There you are, there you are. Steady. Foot in, and washing. More water over the foot means less sensation

In the beginning, God created…

You must love the Lord your God, your God, who do you say that I am? You are the Christ…

A man had two sons, and the younger one asked for his inheritance…

Younger one, thirty, thirty, thirty… in and out. Just breathe…

Prodigal living…

Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me…

I have cast out your sins for my own sake and I will remember them no more…

Ten coins, one was lost…


Thirty coins, thirty pieces of silver, thirty…

One is ten percent of ten, and thirty ten percent of three hundred. The whore, washing his feet…

He’s washing my feet…

I wish he’d stop. Steady, steady, breathe in and then out…

Ninety-nine sheep. I left them, Judas, to find the one…

The one. Which one, Judas? Which… one?

Pharisees. I’ll insist on more…

Ten percent… of the whore’s perfume. One lost…

Oh, his eyes. Does he know? He couldn’t know, he couldn’t know…

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread…

Which friend, Judas?

Trusted, trusted, who ate of my bread…

has lifted the heel against me…

Heel… smite him on his heel…

Trusted… Can I do this? Can I really? Thirty? 

Which one, Judas? Which son? Which coin?

And what did I do? I searched, I waited… I will wait…

Which lamb?

Lamb to the slaughter, sheep…

And the son returned home to the Father…

Fatted calf…


You never gave my friends and I a calf to celebrate with…

Come home, Judas…

Thirty, thirty… thirty… thirty is enough.

Come home…

He is done…

My feet, he is finished…

It is finished.

{Find part 1 here}

{Find part 2 here}

{Find part 4 here}

So we’re all together for the Passover in this upper room we rented out, and a little into the meal, Andrew bumps my elbow as he reaches for a serving plate, so I turn to look at him. But my eye catches on something past him, and I notice Jesus stand up. I don’t know why I don’t look away, but I don’t.

Things have been weird lately, maybe that’s why.

They’re always weird with him, but lately it’s been one thing after another.

He let a woman touch him, anoint his feet, and with this crazy-expensive oil. She was… well… maybe you get me. Seemed kind of wasteful but he was all for it. Smelled of that junk for three days.

And then there was the incident with him riding on the ass into town, and all the people proclaiming him king.

I mean, strange sayings, more urgency, more talk about death than usual. Honestly, a few of us have quietly been a little worried about that.

So yeah, I don’t look away.

And he goes to the doorman, and starts taking off his clothes, and then takes the towel and basin, and goes to John’s feet like he’s going to wash them.


And John, I have to feel for the kid. I sort of want to say something, but everyone else is still talking and eating, and it seems like I could help the guy save face if I just keep quiet. So I do. But I don’t look away. I can’t help it.

So John sees me watching, and his eyes get all big, eyebrows raising, and I see him working his jaw. When Jesus turns his head, John nods sideways toward the doorman. So I begin to stand, thinking that maybe if this scum would actually do his job, Jesus would go back to the table. But as soon as I stand, the doorman catches my eye and shakes his head. I clear my throat and sit down for a second, thinking hard about what to do. Makes me wonder if Jesus said something to him.

Matthew’s down the end, across the table from the action, and he figures out what’s going down, and goes to the doorman sort of livid. The doorman argues with him all hushed, but then goes over to Jesus and gets down on his knees to take the basin, but Jesus sends him back to the door. He smirks at Matthew as he goes, and Matthew makes a gesture, like “know your place.”

I stare at Matthew till he looks at me, and he stares back. And we have this conversation between the eyes, like I know what he’s thinking and he knows what I’m thinking. And man, John. I totally feel for him. I mean, beyond the obvious, this is a longer footwashing than even a new doorman would pull off on accident.

When I look back at John, Jesus is at James’s feet.

And then it hits me that maybe he’s going to do all of us like this. Or at least the three of us, which means me.

I don’t want to be obvious, but honestly this can’t happen to me, and so I start thinking about how to get out and get some air without getting busted. But I need an excuse. My mind starts to race, and I’m thinking Leave the Passover? Is there an acceptable reason to do that? I put my head down studying the splinters in the table.

And then, Andrew elbows me again. But this time, he’s really elbowing me, and I realize that Jesus is pulling on the straps of his sandals, and all I can do is think about running. But his eyes are begging me not to leave him, and I’m a loyal guy. I don’t look away. But seriously this has to stop. Ridiculous! Just freaking ridiculous.

So I think I’ll probably confront Jesus. I begin cracking my knuckles and gritting my teeth, rocking a little.

Yeah, I’ll just confront him.

So he comes to me, pulling his basin with him, and I get all sort of pitiful in my tone, not wanting to disrespect him, but it’s got to stop, and so I say “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Inside, I’m all like come on. He’s just sick. Gotta be.

I see Matthew out the corner of my eye, giving me a firm nod, his fist in the air like “Get ’em, buddy.”

And Jesus, his eyes are wet, he’s pretty moved. I love the man, and so I want to be careful. He seems delicate. But I also just can’t let this happen.

He looks at me, and I have to tell you, he doesn’t look sick. He looks determined, but not sick. And I realize, he’s pretty serious. I might not be able to talk him out of it.

He says, “What I’m doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later,” which is honestly what he usually says.

So I sort of set my jaw, and I’m like “Look. You’re never gonna wash my feet.”

So he says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

No part with him? I’m freaking Peter. I’d do anything for this guy. And no part?! Things are getting out of control.

So I’m all “Lord, not only my feet then, but my head and hands too.” And I bow toward him with my hand on my head, and then start taking my clothes off, thinking maybe he’ll get it.

But then I look up, and he’s totally serious.

And he’s the Messiah, the Christ. And you know, I start thinking that as weird as things have been lately, I just can’t chance it.

So I drop the bull crap, and I’m like “Seriously, please… if it matters that much to you, you wash my head and hands too.”

And he gets this grin on his face, and he looks the way he did when he caught my wrist right before I nearly drowned, and he said “why’d you stop believing?”

And heck, if I can walk on water, it ain’t gonna kill me to let him wash my feet.

So he grins, and I’m madly swallowing spit and blinking back what I swear feels like tears, but it can’t be, and he says “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over. So you are clean; but not all.”

And he looks around at all of them, and says “Not all of you are clean.”

But I’m clean, whatever that means, so hey. I mean, I’m Peter, right?

Right… I’m Peter…

And next thing I know, my feet are in the water, and he’s doing his thing, and I’m all crying like a kid…

Gehenna, I better have a part with him.

{Find part 1 here}

{Find part 3 here}

I have overheard the stories.

Doesn’t everyone know?

A man like that comes to have a reputation, after all.

But when I heard he needed the upper room, I could hardly contain my nerves in anticipation.

I am not free, after all. House slaves have no luxury to be disciples.

Three years, and I have only heard the tales, nearing legend, have never seen with my own eyes a healing.

They come, he and his entourage, to eat the Passover.

In the middle of their meal, he stands quietly and walks toward me. I shift my weight and watch him come near, squirming under the intensity of his gaze, unrelenting and direct.

My pulse races the closer he comes, till he stands almost toe to toe with me.

His hand finds my shoulder and with a slight nod, he takes the towel from my arm, stepping to the side to remove his cloak and wrap himself in the towel, folding down the edge at his waist.

Removing the basin from its stand, he carries it to the table and slowly begins to stoop at the feet of one of his men.

The man’s eyes grow large, first confused and then defiant, and find mine from across the room, demanding I intervene.

I come quickly, find my knees and reach for the basin, but am firmly but quietly rebuked.

“No… no. Let me.”

So I scramble to my feet, stepping back, heat so in my face and hands wringing, desperately shaking. I take my place by the door. He’s really going to do it.

What a backward man. Surely he knows the customs. Can one come up, here, and not know the customs?

Out of respect, I avert my eyes from the reddening faces of his men.

A man who heals, a man with such lofty claims of a new kingdom, a man with power… washing the feet of his inferiors… who can make sense of it?

But this is what they say, that he is peculiar in most things.

One of his men dares to question him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet too?” His voice is edgy, confronting. “Lord, you will never wash my feet.” Each time, his voice lands heavily on “Lord.”

And so he doesn’t, not yet. He waits, but locks eyes with the man and says steadily and slowly, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

The man abruptly sits back, clearly stunned, and then stands up, arms wild and shaking, beginning to undress right there in front of all of them.

But this Jesus stands with the man, reaching to calm him like they sometimes do if a horse gets loose in the streets, and says “only your feet. You are clean…”

And then, meeting every eye, lingering on each face, his voice slightly cracks as he forces out “but not all of you.”

He kneels once more, foot after foot he washes, man after man. The awkwardness in the room sits heavy and damp, the only sounds the embarrassed shifting of bodies, the water rippling in the basin, the towel against the skin.

He takes his time, agonizing in how slow, and each man can’t bear to look at him.

The last foot is washed.

He stands and stretches his back, and I can hardly contain my smile. Yeah, that’s right. After kneeling and stooping over the feet of twelve men, the back smarts a little.

He returns to me with the basin and removes the towel from his waist.

I confess, I cannot help but feel a strange camaraderie sweep over me, maybe a certain dignity, his rhythm, his manner, etching into my memory.

I feel that I can never wash feet the same way again.

I am caught watching him and he meets my eyes a split second before I remember my place, dropping my head.

He waits for me till I look up, afraid I’ve missed instructions, and his eyes laser into me, cutting deeply with something I don’t understand. I am quaking and not breathing.

He leans toward me, toward my ear, and I wait for instructions. Instead, he whispers my name.

My… name.

His voice reaches into my belly to urge my being to himself. Oh, that I could be one of his twelve!

He pauses, then turns to re-dress in his cloak and return to his men.


{Find part 2, “Peter,” here}

At the little stone church nearby, there is beautiful worship on Tuesday nights. We call it Adoration. And because we meet on Tuesdays, in holy week we take the traditions of Maundy Thursday and move them to Tuesday so that we can observe together.

On nights like this one, the liturgy mirrors the story of Jesus at the Last Supper with his disciples. We wash feet, we break bread… we remember, we are present, we look forward.

So much beauty…

We strip the altar.

The night draws to an end, and by the dim of candlelight, Psalm 22 is read as the chalice and the bread are removed, the processional cross taken down, the cloth covering the table stripped away. All is taken and replaced by a simple and homely looking wooden cross, standing behind the table where moments before the celebrants stood in persona Christi.

What stuns me every time is the contrast between that cross and all that has gone before it.

Tonight, I washed feet.

There is no elegant way, I am discovering, to wash a foot – no way that is not clumsy, no way that is not utterly vulnerable, no way that is distanced from the reality of skin touching skin and all the self-consciousness and range of meanings possible and gentle anxieties that are ever so right.

It always takes me the first foot to settle into my hands, into their work, into the surrender of loving another in such an intimate and frankly strange way. At first, I cupped water and poured it over his foot, then kind of touched it, then picked it up, and eventually I had to let go of myself and wash. The two of us had the added benefit, one could say, of having no cloth in our water, so it was hands to feet. By his other foot, I was eased in and not free of being self-conscious, not free of vulnerability or closeness, but hopelessly settled deeply into all of that, and yet the beauty of being ourselves, giving and receiving, with no escape.

There was flesh – skin, sinews, veins, bones. Someone alive in my hands.

And my feet were washed.

There is also no elegant way to receive such an act.

It always takes me the first foot to settle into the other’s hands, into his work, into the surrender of being loved so strangely. And he did the same thing I did. By my second foot, we were settled into humility and therefore the glory of being so rawly ourselves, doing for one another what Jesus did.

And I was flesh – skin, sinews, veins, bones. Alive in someone’s hands.

Tonight, we passed the peace of Christ in the liturgy. Where do my arms go? Under, or over? Or perhaps one of each? Where does my face go, and what do I say exactly, and how long should I hold? What does it say if I let go first, or what does it mean if she does?

There was flesh – faces, arms, torsos, ears. Someone alive in my hands.

Tonight, I was given salty moist bread from the loaf and I dipped it into the cup, before taking it in, before crossing myself.

The torn edges are delicate. Sopped in the juice, they become more tender making what I hold in my hand the moment before it gets to my mouth sort of undignified and wet. There is no elegant way to take that kind of bread and wine.

There was flesh – flour, yeast, water, salt. Someone alive in my hands.

And there was light. There was spoken and sung word. There was procession and bowing and taking and returning.

And then the lights went down, and the altar was stripped of all except our memories of how it just looked. On my knees, listening to the crying out of Jesus in the psalm, the wine was still on my breath, my body still felt warm from the peace, and my feet were still bare.

Then the empty cross, waiting to become a crucifix, waiting to become an instrument of execution.

I wanted to be the last one in the dark sanctuary, alone with what was to come. In the dim, my eyes traced the crossbeam, imagining the movement over time of the slump of his body, sagging as he hung.

I am always afraid, every year, that I will miss the weight of Friday and therefore miss the glory of Sunday.

The first moments after the cross was in place, the sanctuary was silent except for the subtle shifts of so many bodies and the faint electric buzz that silence sometimes makes.

But what comes with an old church is the telling of its floor, the way it betrays one’s every move. And as people rose from their knees, one by one, and slid out of pews toward the doors, the floor chronicled their every step, creak by incriminating creak.

I wanted to be the last one.

I held out for a long time, my knees moaning and my thoughts beginning to race on to the next thing. And as the feet which had just been washed moved over the floor and away from the scene of Friday to come, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus at the table saying “one of you will betray me.”

It was as if that wooden floor was mocking us: “Surely not I, Lord. Surely, not I.”

I wanted to be the last one. I was determined. It seems so silly now, but maybe you know how it is, when you get something in your head and you just can’t shake it. I didn’t want to leave too early. I didn’t want to walk out on the expectant cross waiting for its body or out on the Jesus who had been so in our midst.

But finally the voice of reason came and said “Shannon, you’re going to have to leave some time. And what does it matter if you are the last one to betray, if you still betray?”

So I quietly got up, and moved out toward the back, listening to my bare feet plod down the aisle, and the ancient wood mock me as I left.

And in the foyer, as I retrieved my shoes from under the coat rack, hugged a few necks, said a few goodnights, it was as I knew it would be. I had forgotten where I had just been – in the dark, with a cross waiting for the body of my Beloved.

Waiting for flesh.

What stuns me every time is the cross and all that has gone before it – and all that will come after it.

All through the night, I held body to my body. I washed feet, I was washed, I passed peace, I took bread and wine.

So much flesh…

There are a million eyes I could look through to see this night, countless ways of reaching for understanding.

We can see it as mere symbol, mere re-enactment and remembering.

But tonight, so much flesh in my hands, I can’t help but think that if the realities of this night don’t change the story we live now, what good is it? If the passion becomes pedestrian, what was it for?

How do we live this part of the gospel?

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” -Nicodemus 

. . .

It is said that we are born alone, and that we die alone.

It’s one of those mysteries of life, how a person can be so surrounded, so with, and yet so alone within his or her own body.

As a woman and a mother, my experience is that we also birth alone.

. . .

Yesterday, the two of them wet from waist down and robed in white, before he began to say the words and ready himself for the push and pull of child into and out of the water, he called me to the edge to see.

“Come closer. You should see.”

. . .

My boy is nine. And months ago when the discussions about baptism began, I have to confess how nervous I was.

I was baptized when I was nine.

I had no idea what I was doing. But I’ve learned since: does anyone?

I was caught in this strange space between being respectful of anyone’s experience of baptism – infant, adult, a little water, a lot of water: who am I to judge what God does through our humble efforts? If the Holy Spirit descends, can I argue? – and yet concern about my boy’s readiness. I also wasn’t entirely sure what “ready” means.

But more than his readiness, I was worried about my own.

I knew he would need guidance, formation. I have always known that part of my mothering him is bringing him along in the faith, but somehow the conversation about baptism moved that knowing from wide lens to macro lens. Suddenly the microscope was on my own doubt, my own questions, and all of Christianity that I am unsure of.

And maybe somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart, I was asking

How can anyone give birth after the child is half grown? Can she take him back into the womb and birth him a second time?

It’s a crazy question, just as Nicodemus in his asking must have known how very odd the reality of what he was asking would be.

But it also revealed my own heart, and my own anxiety.

I birthed him alone the first time, in a room where others were very with, but alone in my own body.

And now, as a single parent, most days of the week my experience of raising him is very much alone. It’s not that I alone raise him. It’s that I am alone as I raise him.

How much would I be responsible for his formation?

And more burdensome: what if I ruin him?

. . .

Yesterday, he called me out of the congregation, closer so I could see. Called us closer, for my boy’s dad was present too. We stood just feet away.


















Those words… I now baptize you.

The push into the depths…

The pull back out, wet and a little bit struggling…

The first breath…

Witness, but not womb.

. . .

The night my womb was struggling against the unseen forces within it, trying to move him from inside out into the world, was it alone?

Was my womb alone?

For all the mechanics of birthing, for all the ways certain parts do the work, the labor of bringing a child to the world is whole-bodied.

And perhaps I am the womb from which this boy once sprang, but the womb which yesterday brought him forth was a different one entirely. On both sides of the push and the pull, the loving faces of so many looked on. In the birth was a with-ness I didn’t know to anticipate. As we brought him into the new reality of living in Christ, no one did it, but the body of Christ. It was a whole-bodied birth.

What relief.

The old adage says it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a whole body to birth one. The village which will raise him isn’t me, but rather the body of Christ around us. For all the alone I feel on any given day in raising him up, I am not truly alone. I am mother, but I am not mother. By mystery, I may be midwife. I may be something else entirely.

And for all the anxiety about readiness, I must confess that in that moment he emerged from the water yesterday morning, I realized that we are all infants in that birth. Even a child of nine, for all the knowing and faithfulness he has within him, all of that knowing and all of that faith amounts to lungs which are developed enough to breathe the Spirit, and instincts which will propel him toward the nourishment of Word and sacrament. Baptism, for all the ways it is an activity of faith, either of the baptized or the community around him or her, is foremost is an activity of hope.

But not wispy hope.

It’s nothing less than a hope grounded in faith, in trust. Hope in a person, the God-man Christ, and his body filled with persons who will nurture and guide. In days to come, we will feed this boy, we will clothe him with the Word and with our love, and tend to the daily tasks of raising.

And yet, in the end, what we hope for, what we work for as the village raising him, is nothing less than mystery.

Who can see a child become, and with pride take responsibility? Growth is always mystery, always marvel, for we could never predict fully who a child will become. We are always only ever setting up the right conditions – rich soil, sufficient access to sun, watering tempered with wisdom. In the end, it is God who takes the seed of our hope, and brings forth the child from our efforts, for it is the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead, who raises us. And always it is mystery.

I may have birthed him alone the first time, but no… a child cannot go back into his mother’s womb, and a mother cannot birth him a second time.

Such relief.

I have loved him. That is all I have done. And it’s all that I can do. Love him, relentlessly pursuing his good. The Spirit of which he was yesterday born as he came up out of the waters will, through the tending of the people of this body (of which I am a member), do the rest.

“We stand and lift up our hands, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. We bow down and worship him now; how great, how awesome is he. And together we sing…” ~Chris Tomlin

What I’m wondering,

what I want to ask…

is this: If you have ever sung this song, have you ever both stood and lifted your hands, and then bowed down as you sang it?

“Falling on my knees in worship, giving all I am to seek your face; Lord all I am is yours… My whole life I place in your hands, God of mercy humbly I bow down…”

And if you ever sang the words above, did you fall on your knees? Did you humbly bow?

I’m not hating. I’m not condemning. I’m just asking, and I’m asking because…

I’m guilty.

Both of the above songs are uber-popular on Sunday mornings in many protestant evangelical-ish churches. I’m really not sure how many times I have sung the two of them in the past number of years. Tons. And they’re not the only ones like them. It has occurred to me, on occasion, on the days when I am present and tuned into what is happening and not merely honoring formalities, that

I’m lying.

And yet, I do it.

Now there are all sorts of objections which could be made, three of which I see right away as possibilities. First, find myself a church that is more “active” in worship, if I want that. Second, find a church that doesn’t sing these sorts of songs so that at least I’m being honest when I sing. Third, understand it as a spiritual reality – my soul is lifting its hands, my soul is bowing, my soul is kneeling: why does everything have to be so literal? And why do I have to always be so self-critical?

There are all sorts of objections I could make myself. I could ask whether these are good worship songs to begin with, and how we define good worship. I could critique this part of the church and argue about what I see in worship. I could argue for why another style of worship is better.

But the more pertinent thing is that these songs are being sung, not somewhere else, but in my own church (which I feel inclined to stay in, believing that place matters, stability matters, these people who are my brothers and sisters matter), and sometimes I am the one behind the microphone leading out.

There are a couple curious things I see going on.

The first is what I mentioned above, that if I pay attention to what I’m doing, I’m lying. I say I’m falling down, but truthfully I’m sitting in my pew. I say I’m kneeling, but really I’m standing up. I say I’m lifting my hands, but they’re in my pockets.

I get the spiritual reality thing. I do. And yet, does my soul have knees, and does it have hands? My body has knees, my body has hands. It (I) came equipped with them. So why use a spiritual metaphor for something which can be bodily reality?

Beyond the mechanical why questions, the bigger question seems to me to be something like “what does our use of a spiritual metaphor for a bodily reality mean?” 

In other words, we’re saying one thing, but what are we really saying? Are we actually lying? Or are we telling the truth that we believe our soul is the thing that matters?

Again, by we I mean me, but I worship corporately, and frankly no one else is bowing. And it’s not only my congregation. Ubiquitous examples exist.

The thing is that I think we were meant to bodily worship. And that’s hard, especially for me. My upbringing in my tradition was very subdued as far as worship. We stood and sat. I’m grateful that at least we weekly took communion, as eating and drinking is bodily, but even there, as another friend in this tradition has said, “we take it we(e or a)kly, in both senses.” We didn’t pass the peace, we didn’t raise our hands during the part of the Lord’s prayer that said “for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.” We didn’t even say the Lord’s prayer. The traditions at the table were void of any language or experience even remotely gesturing toward real presence, and about the time I was seven or eight years old, we moved from breakable matza to in essence, sanctified oyster crackers.

We did baptize, and were staunch immersionists. I have to give us that.

I don’t mean to pick on my upbringing. I mean merely to say that when I actually do find myself in gathered settings where bodily worship is the norm, I end up fighting my own sense of puritan modesty or propriety. I certainly wasn’t taught that the body was anything at all.

About five years ago, I began attending a Tuesday night ecumenical service where we did actually kneel in confession, and we did pass the peace – not a handshake or a wave, but full-bodied embrace. And I remember the whole first year sort of bolting out of the service just moments before the words “Let us offer each other the sign of peace,” completely freaked out that I would need to touch people, and all the awkwardness that might ensue.

But I am learning that the body is so much more than I thought it was, and that when my body kneels, my inner being does too. When I raise my hands, my soul is raised. When I bow, my soul is bowed. I’m not sure I can say that about merely singing words that gesture toward motion.

I have been formed to think that worship is the place where we are formed to love our neighbor and the world around us. And I cannot help but wonder what sort of person I am being shaped into when my mouth speaks a reality that my body does not align with.

What if I changed the words. What if I sang a song, and the words were “Father, I love my neighbor, and I sit with the poor in your honor, because you have created us all for love,” but I stood in my pew while the homeless sit with their cardboard signs a few blocks away in the center of the city? That would be easier to see, I think. It would strike me more as a lie, if I didn’t then go sit with the poor.

I think the disconnect between body and soul perhaps forms in us a propensity for having good intentions which never bear fruit. It seems like kneeling when I sing I’m kneeling brings my inner and outer being into alignment and perhaps trains me to do what I say I’m doing, to live how I say I’m living. It would be a practice in consistency, in integrity, if my words matched my body,

if my words became flesh.

And I can’t help but wonder: if I kneel when I sing I’m kneeling, will I love my neighbor when my mouth has made a commitment to Christ that I will love my neighbor? Or is love only a soul reality too?

Which leads me to the other curious thing I see:

Why do we tell God what we’re doing?

Does God need the sports-caster play by play on our actions? If we bodily knelt, would we feel inclined to say on the way to the floor “and now God, I’m kneeling and here is why. It’s to seek your face.”

What are we doing?

I think it’s different than saying “I love you,” or “I live for you,” as those words seem expressions of affection and of commitment. It has been shown time and again that these words are important to say as part of loving practice in relationship.

But what if, for instance, my son came to me tonight and said “Mom, I’m kissing you goodnight,” and then walked away without doing it?

Or, perhaps, what if we were at a fantastic concert and at the end, the musicians came back on stage, and instead of giving a standing ovation, the crowd, sitting firmly in our padded theater seats, all said as one “we are giving you a standing ovation.” What would that even mean?

At the least it would be weird, a bit confusing – perhaps even comical.

So why, in worship, do we do essentially the same thing?

I don’t have answers. I think I’m still perplexed, and wondering about when the shift happened. The old hymns seemed to praise the goodness of God, or sing to God in worship as prayer. But it’s unusual (as best I can remember) for us to tell God what we’re doing in hymns.

Curious, curious things. I think it must say something about our culture (Christian, and otherwise), but I’m not terribly sure what yet.

But I’m faced with a dilemma. I bet sometime in the next couple weeks, a line in a worship song Sunday morning is going to say something bodily that I won’t do out of modesty or fear, and what will that mean?