“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 have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Since Lent is a time of self-examination and confession, let me start out by confessing something to you: I'm obsessed with Downton Abbey. I love the clothes, the music, and the Dowager Countess' witty one-liners. Unfortunately, the period drama both romanticizes and removes the viewer from the harsh realities of life as a servant. I work with foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. Thousands of women leave their homes and families every day to go overseas to be modern-day servants for employers who are much less gracious and appreciative than Lord Grantham and his family. Extreme poverty in their home countries motivates courageous women to endure verbal and physical abuse, harsh working conditions, a complete lack of privacy, and almost total separation from their loved ones just to provide basic necessities for their families back home.
It is Maundy Thursday. Scripture and tradition dictate that we pause today and examine how we serve one another. John 13 describes Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In a time when walking in sandals was the main form of transportation, it’s hard to imagine a much more humbling act of service than feet washing. And yet, as I listen to the stories of the women who come to the walk-in center where I work requesting advice and counsel, crying as they tell their stories, and seeking shelter from harmful situations, the more and more I’m convicted that service is sacrifice. Being a servant is more than just getting dirty, or taking on a job that no one else wants to do; it’s about loving someone else so much that you’re willing to sacrifice – really sacrifice time, talent, and treasure – for that other person’s well-being and betterment. Jesus calls us to love one another. He goes so far as to say that we will be known as his followers if we love each other.
Today we observe service. Tomorrow we observe sacrifice. Love binds those two concepts together. Without love, service and sacrifice are meaningless. As we reflect on Jesus’ call to service and to love, may we remember those who sacrifice more than we can imagine with the simple desire of providing for their families.
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 134).
Image Caption: The end results of a baking lesson Grace gave at the Mission to Migrant Workers in Hong Kong (2012)