For the last ten years I’ve been very involved in Holy Week worship services, most often leading those services, always enjoying them, but not this year. For the first time in a long time my job is keeping me from being in services this week. So, no Good Friday and no Maundy Thursday services for me. No symbolic foot washing for me this year, but is that such a bad thing?
Jesus did say, “you also should do as I have done” not “Wouldn’t this make a great annual symbol of serving?” Even as I’m disappointed this year that work is keeping me from so many of the worship services I love, service has no end. Today at work, I can serve. I can go beyond expectations and set the bar higher and higher for helping and caring for people. I can work like I’m in worship.
If the story of Holy Week and the sacrificial love and action of Jesus are to be transformational, then it must leave the pages of scripture and take root to grow in our lives. It must become our story, not just our calendar or our symbolic remembrance. Let’s go into this day, all days, wherever we work, doing our job like we’re in worship.
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…
33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
from John 13, NRSV
And if you haven’t seen it, here’s the
Easter message from our Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
I love his quote, “Don’t be ashamed to be people of love.”
I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.
I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.
One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:
I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.
This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.
My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.
This morning I am tired, and in my fatigue I turn to prayer with one of my favorite saints: Christopher. His name means Christ-Bearer. As the stories of saints go, his is an ancient and beautiful story of finding the will, the strength and the opportunity to serve.
Christopher sought the greatest King to whom he might pledge his strength and battle valor… he found instead a gentle King who called him to serve the weak and the needful. I begin my prayers today with the hope that I could be deeply reminded that my strength, when spent, belongs to the needful around me. I pray that my will is brought together with opportunity to be a servant like Christopher.
Christopher was a convert to Christianity in the 3rd century; he was a violent warrior who wanted to serve the mightiest leader he could find. When he discovered that others pointed to Christ as such a leader he went in search of more knowledge about Jesus. A gentle hermit taught him of Christ and set him on a path of dangerous service to local villagers, not a service of killing or violence, but a service of strength and protection. He would carry them across a river that was to strong for them to cross on their own. He did this service faithfully, and one day is said to have carried Christ himself across the river.
It would be a terrible loss to get too caught up in only trying to find the historical Christopher. You will have to sort thru various names, traditions and stories. He has interesting iconography, almost always holding a staff, most often carrying a child, and even sometimes having the head of a dog. (Say what? That would be just my luck if I have have an icon, lol.) Who martyred him? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? These are probably not going to be discovered to an historian’s satisfaction. You’ll also discover that he’s been dropped from many calendars of saints, mostly because of the lack of concrete evidence for his story. But an ancient story of faith leading to service instead of fighting? An ancient story of faith leading to the strength to serve instead of seeking to dominate and to make demands? It’s a needed story for our times.
St. Christopher is often considered the patron of travelers, and the prayers around him reflect that affinity to travel. I’ll end with a prayer that invokes Christopher’s strength and dedicated service, a prayer for the day…
Grant me, O my God, a watchful eye and willing heart.
I would be a willing servant to all and an enemy to none.
You give all people the gift of life, and I pray my actions and words honor that gift.
May all who share this day with me receive only blessings for our time together.
Teach me to use my strength, my will, and every opportunity, to serve others;
help me to slow down and to turn from myself to see their beauty and value.
Give me the strength, the will and a calling to serve, such as you gave to St. Christopher,
and therein help me to follow this epic example of a living and a serving faith
which uses each day to protect and enrich this world for others by sharing your peace.
I beg these things through the graces of Christ, our Gentle King. Amen.
Links about St. Christopher:
1 Peter 4:8-11, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
I am a steward. You are a steward. What a great word! It means that you and I are the operating agents of God who manage and dispense the “properties” and “affairs” of God in the world. Peter is helpful enough to name exactly what we are stewards of: God’s grace.
In speaking and serving others, using whatever gifts and abilities with which we have been blessed, we dispense God’s grace and cover sins with love. Amazing. The word really encompasses a lot about us. In the Greek an oikonomoi was a household servant, the servant who apportioned things, managing affairs and resources of the household on behalf of the master of the house. In this case, in 1 Peter 4, we are the faithful servants apportioning God’s grace in love to cover sins and to serve joyfully the people around us. The passage above is quoted from Today’s New International Version, and in the Common English Bible oikonomoi is translated to be “manager.” We are managing God’s grace and gifting in our lives to the benefit of the people around us.
Here’s the catch… we aren’t just apportioning grace to the deserving, but also to those who have sinned or in some way become less deserving. This where we find the biblical truth of the day to teach us something of our civility. We aren’t meant to be walking talking dispensers of God’s wrath for people, punishing sins, withholding grace and replying to incivility with incivility. We are meant to be the people who dispense grace when needed to cover sins, love and service to the least deserving, faithful to the God who employs us in the household of the earth.
The point of all this is to give glory to God in Jesus Christ. Our faithful stewardship, our service to others, our love and absence of “grumbling,” all of it accrues to the glory of God, showing God’s greatness in this world. Incivility probably breaks in through me most when I begin worrying about my own glory or begin to hold back the grace I am sent to share.
Saving God, let grace flow through me
unimpeded to the people most needing
whether or not they can see
it is your love and grace that drives
any gifts they might receive
filling and quickening our lives
I’m your steward but I pray
for love to cover my own sins
to be kept in your kingdom this day
I’ve been meditating on the story of Saint Christopher. It’s got my imagination fired up and my soul is energized by the images and icons of service that he represents. You can research the story here or here or here, as a few places to start. The story is readily available.
For some it will sound very odd to be meditating with or on a Saint. I didn’t grow up with the Saints, so I understand… it’s been a relatively new thing in my life, for about 6 years now, to read about and explore the lives of the Saints. My recent prayers, focusing on the short litany, “Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve.” have brought me to the study of St. Christopher. Well, that and finding a sweet St. Christopher medallion at a flea market. =)
This Saint’s story is one of honest searching for a king worthy of serving. It’s a story about one’s strength and giftedness being used as a blessing to others. It’s a story that shows how we aren’t all the same in our coming to Christ or in our following of Christ. I like the story a lot. It’s a story of the divine in the mundane, and reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Don’t faint when you realize that we aren’t sure if he lived in the 3rd or 4th Century. Don’t give up on him because of the interesting divergence of details among the myriad traditions. The story of Christopher is not scripture, so we aren’t looking in it for that kind of divine revelation… but we can find in it divine vibrations… we can find in it a picture of humanity that points us to the divine.
Who can’t relate to the redemption of Christopher? Who can’t relate at some time in life to physically standing out, by our stature or appearance. Who can’t relate to seeking someone worthy of our service and fidelity? Who among us doesn’t live next to “raging rivers of life” that force us to journey together? I like the story. It inspires me.
I want to be a Christopher. I want to serve with fidelity and strength. I want to be a useful neighbor in the world. I want my service in this life to be service to the One who gives life. Perhaps one day we’ll each get across this river and wipe our tired brow, and sigh real big, and look around and say, “Dude, I just barely made it through.” And our Christ is going to high-five us and say, “No way. We rocked!”