“What is truth?” What is the truth about God? About Jesus? About us? What gives me hope? What is worth living for? Most important of all, what is worth dying for?
Truth is very important to me. I’ve spent most of my life looking for it. Ironically, most of my life has been spent finding out that the truth isn’t what I thought it was.
Once upon a time, I thought that the truth lay in the family. But my father was an alcoholic and my mother was perennially depressed. In another age they would have separated. But they didn’t. What is truth in that? It’s a mystery.
Once upon a time, I thought that the truth lay in the church. I was once filled with fire of eternal truth. I burned with the passion of having Big God on my side. But now I wonder if some of the “eternal truths” aren’t simply tricks played on my mind by five million years of evolution. Science taught me to doubt. I went straight from the mountain-top of ordination to a laboratory of perpetual doubt and questioning. I live in a world where the conventions of prayer and the traditional language of religious faith count for nothing. “Nothing, nothing, nothing” writes John of the Cross, “Nada, nada, nada…and even on the mountain – nothing.” What is truth? It’s a mystery.
In that Church, in that Body of Christ, I have watched men I love – fine priests – fall from grace. Alcohol, sex…yet they are still the priests I would want by my deathbed. What is truth? It’s a mystery. Many years ago, I watched a kind and holy priest crucified by his parish for not being like his predecessor. What is truth?
Perhaps the truth lies in fame and recognition. I watch our pathetic self-serving attempts to get recognized. Been there, done that. Who really cares about me and my success? What is truth?
Perhaps the truth lies in power. Been there and done that also. I’ve used power. I wheeled and dealed and bullied and cajoled in my little corner of the world. I’ve got what I want sometimes. I’ve won my battles. But you know what? When I win, I feel dirty. When I lose, I feel angry. What is truth?
Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, Truth rode an ass into Jerusalem. Truth did not ride on a war-horse. Truth rode into the city like a girl on an ass. Last Sunday, truth laughed. She danced. Truth jested. And the people danced and laughed with her. Last Sunday, truth laughed at the priests who connived for position. She laughed at the church. Truth laughed at the soldiers and the lawyers and the teachers. Truth laughed at the pious. She laughed at the rich. Truth laughed at the scholar. Truth laughed at my pathetic pretensions to power. “You could have no power at all, unless it was given you from above.”
But then truth lost it. She stopped laughing. Truth went where she was not welcome. She invaded the sacred temple. Truth went too far. She was too radical. She misbehaved. She could not stay silent. Truth threw the money-grubbing power-mongers into the street. What else can we say? Tomorrow, truth will be crucified.
But tonight, truth makes a last attempt to be heard. Away from the trumpets and perfumes and costumes of the temple, away from the politicking of the city and the brutality of Rome, in an upstairs dining room, among a small group of chosen friends, truth makes one last appeal. Truth tries one last time to find the symbol that will last for eternity. Truth struggles to become the power that will survive the cross.
To you is given to know the secret of the Kingdom of God. Tonight, to you chosen few, precious truth reveals her ultimate character. It is a secret more precious than life. How can we possibly deserve it? How can we betray it? Just give me a little of that truth. Just let me get a glimpse of that pearl beyond price. There is a Byzantine prayer with the words: “Of thy mysterious supper, Son of God, this day admit me partaker. For I will not tell the mystery to thine enemies, nor betray thee with a kiss like Judas. But like the thief I will confess thee: ‘Remember me Lord when you come into your kingdom’.”
Tonight, in your very hearing, truth takes off his clothes and takes a towel. Truth stands naked as a servant. His eyes gaze at us long and hard. What eyes! They see into our soul. What love! What reproach! What understanding! What forgiveness! What encouragement! What invitation! What power! What hope!
Then Servant Truth, humble truth, washes our feet and offers us the towel. Tomorrow, you can lift the cross as high as you want. Tomorrow, you can wash yourself as often as you like in the blood of the lamb. In the years to come, you can dress it up in fancy philosophy like Anselm or Abelard or Bernard. In the days ahead, you can drone on about it in creeds or hymns or elegant theology. But tonight is the raw “moment of truth” – tonight we witness the moment of atonement when heaven meets earth. Tonight is the moment in which God’s truth confronts us in the form of a servant holding out the towel. This is the ultimate “why” in human life. This is our hope. Here is the seed of meaning. Here is the glowing spark of resurrection. Here the divine future is revealed. Here is truth about God. Here is truth about Jesus. Here is truth about ourselves and our place in the world. Here is the moment with the power to change history.
Servant truth, fragile truth, loving truth – truth washes our feet tonight and tonight offers us the towel. Dare I take the towel tonight? Truth says: “Do it. Do it in remembrance of me.”