Whatever opinions you have about Christianity you must agree that the events of that Easter two thousand years ago, however you see them to be, changed the world. Being a Christian minister I often think about the significance of Christianity today. And what it means to us. It seems to me the message of Christmas and Easter are essentially the same. That is new life comes out of the most despairing of circumstances. If you look for new life you look into the hell holes of the world. You won’t find hope in a palace; you will find it in a stable. You won’t find new life amongst those who have life already you will find it amongst the dead, those whose very lives are under threat and the dying. In other words Christianity is essentially about hope. It’s about never giving up. It’s saying; In the most despairing of circumstances when all sense of hope seems eliminated, that’s when new life is busily emerging. In fact, it doesn’t just emerge, it bursts onto the scene.
If that doesn’t sound religious to you, it speaks to me of a profound lovingness at the core of all that is. Glimpses of that lovingness are what gives us hope. Glimpses of it also bring me to my knees in awe,
Of course, Easter is about Jesus. The more I look at Jesus and the words we are fairly certain he said and the actions we are fairly certain he did, we get the picture of a highly unusual young man who seemed to understand that source in such a unique, loving and close way, his very being seems to model it or parts of it. I am privileged to witness his legacy every day often in individuals who would be the last to call themselves Christian. Those are the ones working with the dying, the lost, the sick, the wounded, the rejected, the marginalised, the little old lonely lady living down the street whose family have left her or rather neglected her; the trafficked children in Poipet Cambodia; the refugees in the Syrian camps, the persecuted gay people in Africa, the Tibetan people; the list is endless.
I wonder sometimes if a doctor working his guts out in the middle of Africa with few supplies and an endless procession of sick, gaunt, starving, dying victims fleeing the armies of megalomaniacal dictators or the ravages of amoral international business realise they are manifestations of this love, but to our society they are. They are the ones showing evidence that life can emerge out of death and new beginnings are always on the horizon.
I really don’t have to say twice that I actually get more out of sitting with our guests in the Loaves & Fishes free restaurant or with troubled kids than I do with so called “normal” people. It is with them over and over again that I witness acceptance rather than judgement, sharing rather than hoarding and hope rather than entitlement. I find those who have nothing who share, will give everything and it’s those facing death itself who become the most loving.
Very early on in the life of Exodus I found a way of repaying the enormous gifts given to me by our guests was to wash their feet on the anniversary of Jesus washing his disciples feet, that is, Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). I also did it to bring us back to reality. “Will you wear your robes and do it in the Church?” one congregation member asked me. “No”, I said. That would lift it out of a humble thank you as I think Jesus meant it to be.
So, now every Maundy Thursday we fill a bowl with water and detergent, place it in front of a chair and I invite free restaurant guests to come and have their feet washed by me.
The first time I did it, my first guest was the oddest character you ever met. He walked into the hall wearing big wide Bombay bloomer shorts, an oversized short sleeved shirt, a leather hat with corks and was smoking a cigar. His legs were as skinny as match sticks and the big black workers boots he wore, made him look like Mickey Mouse. I pulled him over and he sat down and as I washed his feet he told me stories of his childhood in the NSW bush. My second guest had blackened feet. He had suffered gangrene from injecting heroin between his toes and he told me the tribulations he had gone through to get over his addiction.
I have found this washing the guest’s feet to be a profoundly spiritual experience. A warmth fills the whole restaurant and people begin speaking more with each other than usual and a real bond develops between the guests and me. I find guests remember this and will often talk about this time during the year.
During one later ceremony I offered to wash the feet of a visiting Islamic cleric. “Only if I can wash yours” came the answer. Together we had a great time washing each other’s and my guest’s feet. It was so enjoyable that the next year I invited a Buddhist monk as well and the three of us shared the experience. However, nowadays as a reflection of my deepening relationship I feel with my guests, I prefer to do it on my own.
Over the years Easter here at Exodus has become a multi-cultural multi-religious event. About twenty years ago a group of Jewish people offered to volunteer Christmas Day. Afterwards one said to me “Bill, you don’t really need us on Christmas Day is there one special day of the year when you can do with our help?” After talking it over we all came to the view the best day the Jewish community could help us and the only day both communities were free to enable this help to occur was (you guessed it) Easter Sunday. So, on Easter Sunday while I am in the church celebrating, the Jewish community is preparing and serving the meals to the guests in our free restaurant. About that same time I was contacted by a Buddhist monk. “Bill” he said to me, “many of my Buddhist students spend a lot of time meditating on Buddha’s loving compassion but to my mind spend hardly any time exhibiting it. Can they come and spend time in your free restaurant distributing meals to the poor, homeless and lonely in the hope they actually get a feeling for doing loving compassion”. Consequently on the third Saturday of the month the Buddhist community take over our Loaves & Fishes Restaurant and serve and distribute meals to our 400 or so guests. Needless to say these meals are the most popular because it’s very well cooked and prepared Asian food. Their spring rolls are something to die for. As this Easter Saturday falls on the third Saturday of the month the Buddhist community will be serving the meal on Easter Saturday. This year also the Islamic community will be serving the meals from our inner city food van the evening of Easter Saturday. That means over Easter 2014 our guests will receive meals prepared and served by Christians, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims. Surely a sign of hope for the world.
As I said in the beginning, Easter to me is a very special time. It shows how the “system” can rise up, attack and attempt to destroy the very lovingness that is at the heart of all creation. However, that lovingness has the last laugh because up till now no human structure has ever been to come anywhere near to destroying it. We only catch glimpses of this lovingness now and then, it’s like sand, it trickles through your fingers but it comes back and back and back reminding us never to give up and try and reflect this lovingness in loving one another no matter what our background.
I am dedicating this blog to 3 remarkable individuals.
Ilya in Thailand who works with the most marginalised street children and Malina and Andrea in Poipet who work with kids with no hope.