April 14, 2022

We are fortunate to have among us a significant portion of the cast of “Anastasia: The Musical.”  I’ve been thinking about the show quite a lot since seeing it performed by Chatham High School a few weeks ago.  The musical is based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who for a long time was rumored to have survived the 1918 execution of her family.  Bolshevik revolutionaries killed them all – her father, her mother, her brother, her sister, several members of their entourage, and – as was proven many years later – they killed Anastasia too.  But the musical imagines that Anastasia survives and shows up later as a young woman named Anya, an orphan with amnesia who has no idea who she is or where she’s from.

As her memories return in fragments, Anya eventually comes to realize that she really is Anastasia.  One of the most poignant conversations happens when Anya meets her grandmother, the Dowager Empress.  The Dowager Empress is understandably suspicious.  Many people over the years have pretended to be Anastasia.  In the midst of that difficult conversation, Anya asks, “Do you remember the last time you saw Anastasia?”  The Dowager Empress pauses.  And then: “Yes.  I didn’t know it was the last time.  We never do.  We never know which goodbye is our last.” 

We never know which goodbye is our last.  That line illuminates something about the events we remember tonight, that time that Jesus shares with his disciples even as the people who want to kill him are getting closer with each moment.

The thing is: Jesus does know.  He knows that – at least for now – these goodbyes are their last.  He knows that his death is near.  We hear it in the gospel: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Jesus knows other things too.  Jesus knows who will betray him.  Jesus knows who will deny him.  He knows who will cower in the shadows and who will stand faithfully at the foot of the cross.  He knows these things, but none of that keeps him from loving all of them.  He loves them to the end.

Peter certainly doesn’t know what’s going on.  That’s why we love Peter: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus reassures him: “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  How much we understand only in retrospect.

Jesus’ friends, his disciples, the people who spent the most time with him, the ones who saw him heal and teach and feed and preach and love and forgive and welcome – they don’t seem to know what’s going on.  Each of them might have said, later: “I didn’t know it was the last time.  We never do.”

Jesus even asks them about it after he has washed their feet, that most shocking and tender expression of love.  He asks after he has put on his robe and returned to the table: “Do you know what I have done to you?”  They don’t, of course.  They don’t know.  It’s too much to take in. 

By the end of this meal together, the disciples still won’t fully know what lies ahead this night.  But they will know this.  They will know that they are loved.  Not just because Jesus tells them, but because he shows them.

And then he tells them to do the same.  To love one another in this way.  Around tables.  On hands and knees.  With humility.  With a love that does not flinch, even when death is knocking at the door.

As followers of Jesus, on this night we realize that it’s not really about what we know.  Jesus knows enough for all of us.  Tonight we remember that it’s about how we love.  We love in the way that he has shown us.  We gather around tables and share food together.  We eat.  We drink.  We wash feet.  We laugh. We tease each other.  We sing. We argue.  We forgive.  We offer ourselves in humble service.  We wash the dishes.  We make the repairs.  We check in on the person who is lonely or sick or grieving.  We help a friend.  We feed the hungry.  We seek to do these things day after day, hour after hour, moment by moment.  To love other people as if it were our last opportunity to do so.  To love them to the end, no matter when the end might come.

Hear now this poem from Pádraig Ó Tuama, a prayer for this particular night[i]:

Uncovered Jesus,

You washed

the feet of your friends

with your hands.

We do not know what to do

with this kind of love

or this kind of power

so we repeat it once a year.

May we repeat it more often:

every month; every day; every hour; every encounter.

Because this is how you chose to show

love and power

to your friends.

Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ


[i] From Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community by Pádraig Ó Tuama. p. 28

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Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

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