He loved them to the end!

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At our Mothers Union quiet reflection morning last week, I spoke about grief and loss, absence and lamentation, as we prepared for Holy Week as part of our Lenten pilgrimage.  Included in my story-telling, was a story about a woman called Jane, commissioned by Richard Holloway who was a Bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh during the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was rampant. Richard Holloway asked Jane to minister to the people struggling and dying of AIDS, the people rejected, feared and outcast by the world and in his parish.

At that time there were no drugs to prevent the deaths and young people died in their thousands.  It meant Jane’s parish was a parish of the dying and the grieving.  It meant waiting, again and again, beside the men and women whose young lives were being stolen from them by the virus.  It took its toll on her, the way war takes its toll on soldiers who live with endless grief.  At the height of the crisis, she was involved in 200 funerals.   An aspect of her ministry was to craft services that gave expression to the anger as well as the grief.  It was an art that celebrated the courage and humour of those with whom she kept company until the end.  Of course, the enormous cost to her included the 60 long vigils she kept by the bedsides of dying friends as they slipped their moorings and drifted from life. (Holloway, 2013:294-298)

I thought of this ministry as I read once again the remarkable story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends in the middle of their last meal, at the Passover, and speaking to them of love.  This extraordinary story told only in John, is prefaced by the statement:

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Mark 13:1)

Jesus loved them to the very end.  Jane’s ministry of service to the dying meant she loved them to the very, very end.  And in the funerals afterwards, she created services which captured the story of their lives, their passions, their loves and their uniqueness as children of God; a uniqueness which both God and their friends had seen and known and had loved and she was able to retell and celebrate with love.

On Maundy Thursday we are invited to wash one another’s feet, not simply as a symbolic action, but as an action which is drenched in the commitment offered in love to the ‘other’, to the one whom God has placed in this world, uniquely, for this time and this purpose. 

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  (Mark 13:15)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  (Mark 13:34-35)

We know the sort of God someone believes in by the way they behave, speak and think.  An angry, judgemental, arrogant, abusive and discriminatory God is sometimes what people see and hear and learn about from our Christian lives, individually and as a community.  A loving, merciful, compassionate and forgiving God is the One in whom we believe.

In the 1980s, I suspect Jane and Bishop Richard Holloway were deeply unpopular for their work and ministry.  I remember when I worked in the drugs and alcohol addictions field for the NHS in the mid 80s, establishing an AIDS service on the edge of Liverpool, in NW England for drug addicts.  Everyone was very quick to pass judgement about what it meant about people who had the disease, people wondering loudly whether or not they deserved their death as a punishment for their lifestyles; wasn’t this God’s judgement?   They were quick to share opinions about how the world would be better off if they did not exist, there was the real fear of ‘catching’ the disease and becoming an outcast which lurked beneath the surface of our community conversations, the relentless impact on families, workplaces, and communities as people eagerly shared their opinions, judgements and sense of righteousness about what was happening, and how relieved and glad they were it was the ‘other’ and not themselves.  They were blessed, but what about them?!

In washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus is reminding all of us that we are all in need of God’s mercy and love.  None of us can claim to be exempt from the judgements of this world, a world which we have created in our own image and which is so quick to judge and condemn. 

Yet it is to love the other, the outcast, the one who is despised which is what we are called to do in all our relationships and ministries.  Its worth spending this time tonight, as we choose to be in Jesus’ company, as we sit at the table with him, and think about whether or not we were like Judas, slipping away from the company because Jesus’ actions were too hard to bear, too hard to understand and accept, and too hard to do likewise.

What did we say, do or think, the last time we were challenged about our response to someone whom our culture and society deems less worthy?  What has been our response to First Nations peoples, to refugees, to another side of each story?  What was our response during the AIDS epidemic?  Was our response simply to take sides to enable us to reject the other, deflecting and distracting, rather than listening to their very human story in which Jesus shared, in which Jesus has lived, is living and loving them, and us, to the end.  Whose side have you chosen?  I hope its Jesus?

As we wash one another’s feet, I hope you will be loving in your hearts, words and actions, as it is Jesus’ feet you are washing.

 The Lord be with you.


Holloway, R. 2013.  Leaving Alexandria.  Canongate Books Ltd. Edinburgh. 

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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