In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing the Disciples for something big. It reminded me of the first time I read Homer’s Odyssey, the way Odysseus prepares himself and his comrades before their encounter with the Sirens. Just by the seriousness of their preparation, I knew something big was coming. What could it be that could so lure a group of heroes off track? What kind of monster lurked near the ship on its journey that would be such a threat? Odysseus orders his men to stop their ears with bee’s wax, but he doesn’t want to be protected from that sound. He wants to hear the Siren song and live. So he has the men tie him to the ship’s mast and not release him no matter how he begs. What a surprise it was, then, that these were no monsters, at least outwardly, but only beautiful women with a song so alluring that men would leap into the sea at the sound of it and die.
In the Gospel for this evening, the Disciples are not going to be spared with any bees wax or other protections from what was coming. They were about to have a very troubling week in which their teacher, mentor, and friend would be tortured and killed, their loyalty would fail them, and their entire belief system would be shaken and shattered. They would see and hear it all with no earplugs or blindfolds.
Jesus had been preparing them, though, from the very beginning of his ministry. He prepared them for healing and feeding and casting out demons. He showed them what to do and he sent them out to do it. He gave them illustrations in the form of stories and parables so that they could begin to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing from Jesus and learn to think for themselves. He taught them the scriptures to give them grounding and a bigger context for all that they were seeing and doing.
He told them outright what was going to happen, that he would die and rise again. They were confused by these statements. They didn’t believe Jesus. They might have thought he was speaking metaphorically. They tried to correct him, to tell him he was wrong about all that.
But now Jesus departure is imminent. Jesus has one last chance to wrap it all up, to give them one last lesson to get them through so that his ministry continues after his death. Soon, what Jesus has been telling them will be clear, as he is arrested and tortured and crucified and breathes his last. He knows that they will be so afraid. Their instincts will be to scatter and hide and forget everything they learned. The Sirens of their fears will soon be calling to them to jump ship. The Sirens of the accusations of those who know they are associates of Jesus will be calling to them to scatter. The Sirens of an easier life will be calling them away from all that Jesus has taught them.
What Jesus does is to prepare them by tying them to the mast. The mast I am referring to is God. Jesus ties them with scripture, the stories of God saving the people throughout the ages: The story of the Exodus from slavery into freedom. This ties them, joins them with their past, their ancestors, with God and God’s saving nature from the very beginning. He ties them with service. By washing their feet, by such intimacy and care, they will be linked with him forever. Whatever else happens in the coming week, they have shared this moment with him and can see clearly his love for them. They have built a memory that will ground them when they are afraid. He has tied them by his example. They have a way of reaching out to each other, of caring for and serving one another that tie them to the other Disciples. When Jesus is no longer with them, they will be able to look to each other and care for each other. This will sustain them and hold them secure. Jesus has tied them with love. This is the strongest rope of all. The world will call to them with all kinds of lies, that death is the end of the story, that what is worthwhile in life should not be this hard, that their experience of Jesus isn’t real. But love will hold them to that mast, to God and to each other. It will show them the truth.
This is not just a story that happened a long time ago. Jesus knows that our lives are full of trouble. We will not be spared difficulties and suffering. Loving God doesn’t provide earplugs or blindfolds. But through these stories, we, too are tied to our mast. We are tied to God through the stories handed over to us, of God’s saving action, that aren’t just about other people, but us, too. We are tied through service, the service that we do for each other this night and together in the Pantry and Backpack buddies. We are tied through love. Jesus loves us. We are to love one another. That’s what will help us through troubled times. That’s what will help us see and participate in the Kingdom that God is bringing to this world.
It is easy to be two congregations, independent, self-sufficient, proud to be among the few remaining who can afford a full-time pastor, with beautiful buildings each in their own way, with many ministries that benefit the community. And Jesus washes our feet and tells us that independence isn’t the goal. There will be times of trouble. We will experience times of fear and suffering. God is giving us a gift tonight, the gift of himself, the gift of a strong mast, God, the gift of strong rope which is story, service, and love, the gift of each other and this town to serve. May we accept this gift and ride out the storm together bound and prepared by this love.