Many of us here know about a river in Quebec called the St. Lawrence River. But do any of us know why it’s called the St. Lawrence River?
Well, before Europeans settled Canada, the Iroquois lived on it and called it Kahnawáʼkye, which means “The Big River.”
But it’s still referred to as the St. Lawrence River today because Jacques Cartier, who was the first European to see the river, entered the estuary of Kahnawáʼkye on St. Lawrence’s Feast Day.
But do any of us know who St. Lawrence is?
This is a picture of him.
And do you see what’s behind him there, that metal square like thing?
It’s a griddle. Like an actual griddle. Just like the ones we put over campfires for our bacon and eggs in the morning.
But, of course have to ask, “Why in the world is St. Lawrence depicted with a griddle?”
Well, the year was 258, less than 200 years after the gospel of John was written, and before Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
And since Christians kept declaring that Jesus was Lord (and thus that Cesar wasn’t), they were viewed as a threat to the Empire, as people whose patriotism was suspect. So at the time Emperor Valerian declared that any bishop, priest, or deacon should immediately be put the death and all their wealth be confiscated by the state. And so relatively quickly, Pope St. Sixtus II was captured and executed in Rome.
At the time, St. Lawrence was a deacon of the church, and he was in charge of the treasury. And so the prefect of Rome summoned St. Lawrence and demanded that he turn over the riches of the church to the Roman Empire.
Upon this request, St. Lawrence asked for 3 days to gather all the riches of the church. And he was granted those 3 days.
And do you know what he did? During those 3 days, he took all the riches of the church, and he gave every penny away to the poor and homeless. He gave it all away.
And then, on the third day, he gathered up those whom he had given the money to, and they all walked to the prefect of Rome. The prefect was expecting gold and silver, and when he saw St. Lawrence leading his unique band of followers, the prefect asked: “Where are the riches of the church that I demanded?”
St. Lawrence replied “Here are the riches of the church! And you will never be as rich as they are!”
Yeah, well that didn’t go well with the authorities. I can’t imagine why not. So they made a big bed of hot coals, and put a big griddle over those coals, and placed St. Lawrence on them until he died.
Legend goes on to suggest that after a while of laying on the griddle, St. Lawrence lifted his head and yelled “I am well done. Turn me over!”
And this why he is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.
St. Lawrence died on August 10. And that is the day that Jacques Cartier sailed into the St. Lawrence River.
Deep within our Christian tradition we have the image of a towel and a basin, the story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, of Jesus serving, of Jesus inviting us to serve.
At the time of Jesus, do you know who did the foot washing?
Slaves. Some scholars point out that it probably was primarily women slaves who did the foot washing. So for Jesus to do what he did and get on his hands and knees and wash the feet of his disciples, finding a good 2018 comparison is difficult.
I asked on Facebook for some modern day examples, and some people suggested it would be like CEOs cleaning toilets (like undercoverboss!), or like us cleaning up at hotels and the movie theatres instead of us leaving our garbage for the staff.
Pope Francis tries to model this. Two years ago he got down on his hands and knees and not only washed and dried the feet of 12 Muslim migrants, but he also kissed them. And last year he went to a prison and washed the feet of inmates, some of whom were serving life sentences.
In my Lent readings this year, Watler Brueggemann has offered this:
“Get your mind off yourself long enough to care; be so concerned about the well-being of the human community that you don’t have to worry about your place, your church, your class, your values, your vested interests.” – Walter Brueggemann
The image of the master getting down on their hands and knees to wash someone’s feet, is profound.
But it’s not only profound in how counter-cultural it is. It’s also profound because it foreshadows the self-emptying love of Jesus.
It’s the embodiment of one of the oldest hymns we have as found in Philippians 2.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
The Greek word for this is kenosis – Self-Emptying Love. It’s the renunciation of one’s own status in the world to love others, and treat others better than ourselves. Kenosis is the way of Jesus.
A quick aside, but an important one. Foot washing. Kenosis. Self-Emptying Love. Serving. These are voluntary acts on our part. They cannot be used as tools of manipulation. “I served you, and now you need to serve me!” Kenosis is not about people owing you favours. Nope. It’s about love freely given.
For example, in today’s story, it takes place the night before Jesus is crucified. And we read that Jesus washed the feet of all 12 disciples… Including Judas. And that very night Judas still betrayed Jesus.
And Jesus didn’t play the “Hey man… Don’t betray me. I washed your feet two hours ago!”
Genuine acts of love come with no strings attached.
But, while we’re talking about Judas… Can you believe that Jesus washed his feet? The same night that Judas betrayed him?
I, for one, would not want to wash the feet of Judas.
I would want to throw rocks at Judas. But I guess the pacifist side of me might show up, so instead of rocks I’d at least make a snide Facebook post about Judas. But definitely not wash his feet.
So here’s a question for us today:
Whose feet do we not want to wash?
I can think of lots of reasons why I don’t want to wash certain feet. And every time I do, I am reminded not only of the example of Jesus, but also the commandment of Jesus.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – John 13:14-15
This is part of the deal. This is part of following Jesus. This is part of declaring Jesus to be Lord. We don’t get to decide if we should serve or not. We don’t get to decide who gets served or not. We serve.
Here’s some good news. If we do these things, if we don’t consider ourselves better than others, if we get on your hands and knees and wash the feet of others, if we are able to serve those around us, Jesus says that we are blessed.
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:17.
Not #blessed, like you are going to get good health and financial security. Not #blessed like God is going to do something big to knock your socks. God is not like Santa Claus, where he’s keeping a list of who’s naughty and nice and going to give us a present or a lump of coal. Jesus himself still died the next day. Jesus being a “good guy with a good heart who helped people” didn’t spare him from being crucified. St. Lawrence was still burned alive on a griddle. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to get anything out of serving.
Rather, this is the blessing. When we serve, we already are blessed. “When we serve, we are close to God and live in God’s presence.” (Jean Vanier) When we serve, we are already living the abundant life Jesus promises. When we serve, we are already living the grace-filled peaceful life that transcends time. That IS the blessing. Serving others IS the blessing.
And here’s some even better news – We don’t have to be famous or a leader to serve. We don’t have to the deacon in charge of the treasury like St. Lawrence.
During the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, if you were able to watch some of the American commercials, you might have seen a truck commercial that featured people doing things and some trucks driving around. And throughout the background was the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, giving a speech about serving.
The ad was pretty much considered a flop. Like, don’t use Dr. King to sell trucks.
And then, people started digging a little bit deeper into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s entire speech, and then it came out that the speech was actually an anti-consumer speech! It was a speech advising people to not care about upward mobility, not to care about keeping up with Jones’, but to serve. And the speech even went so far as to say don’t trust the advertisers because they are telling you that in order to make your neighbours envious of you, you must drive this type of car.
That was a really expensive Super Bowl Ad flop.
But, the words behind the ad… Those are great. Here they are: