JOHN 13:1-17, 31b-35

Have you ever heard of thin places?  Thin places are good to know about.  Maybe you’ve never heard the term, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any.

Several years ago I asked Bishop Neil Alexander about his recent pilgrimage to Italy.  Bishop Neil mentioned several of the cities he’d visited, including Assisi, the home town of St. Francis of Assisi.  When Bishop Neil mentioned Assisi, I said, “I’ve been there.  Assisi is a very special place.  Even if St. Francis had never been born, there’s something about that place that is different.  Maybe it’s the view of the mountains nearby.  Maybe it’s something in the air.  I don’t know.  It just feels holy there.”

Bishop Neil replied, “Yes.  You’re right. Assisi is a thin place.”  When he said that I knew what he meant.

The idea of thin places comes from Ireland.  In Celtic Christianity a thin place is a specific location that holds mystical, spiritual power.  It’s a place where both heaven and earth are at home.  The veil of separation becomes almost transparent.  In Celtic Christianity, heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places they are even closer.

Do you have some thin places?  Are there places where somehow God seems closer?

I have a few.  Jekyll Island was my first thin place.  I grew up nearby.  When I was small Jekyll seemed magical. I loved to swim, of course.  But I also loved it when thunderstorms came up. The wind, the lightening, the waves crashing on the shore: these things were exhilarating, and I was in awe.  I saw God in all that, though it took me some years to understand why.  As I grew older what once seemed magical became mystical.

I return to Jekyll as often as I can.  And while I’m quite convinced that God is near us everywhere and at all times, I am most keenly aware of God’s presence whenever I take a long walk on a certain deserted stretch of Jekyll’s beach.  I walk alone, but I am not lonely. Jekyll Island has always been a thin place for me.

There are other thin places in my life: a meadow near the student residence where I once lived some forty years ago; the monastery in Conyers; my seminary’s chapel; a few churches, including this one in particular.

These are all places where things come together for me.  Somehow heaven and earth meet, if only for a moment.

I believe in thin places. I also believe in thin times.  Thin times happen when the veil of separation becomes almost transparent, when the lines between heaven and earth begin to blur.

Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is such a time.  For some, myself included, Maundy Thursday is the most intimate liturgy of the church year.  Tonight we see Jesus as he really is: the servant foot-washer who will soon suffer on our behalf and reveal that the way of the cross is the way of life.

Tonight is a very thin time.  Maybe you sense that, too.  Maybe that’s what brought you here in the first place.

We have heard once again the old story.  On the night before he suffered Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that iswhat I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you… 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 love one another.”

So now, in this very thin moment, as Jesus taught his disciples to wash one another’s feet, so we will wash each other’s feet.

 We do this in obedience to the new commandment that we love one another.

Just as Jesus loves us, we also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that we are his disciples, if we have love for one another.


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