Closing Time

Will you let me be your servant?  Let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too.

Tonight began the Triduum, the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Holy Saturday. The Thursday service marks the “last supper” celebration of Jesus with his disciples. In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, this day marks the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist. But in John’s gospel, we see Jesus once again turning the hegemonic institutionalized attitudes upside down by washing the feet of his disciples.  His message is clear.  Walking The Way is all about being a servant.  It is about serving those who are “other,” who are the least of these, who are the lost and the outcast and the marginalized.

During worship this evening, the Assistant Bishop for the Atlanta diocese of the Episcopal church shared the homily and presided over communion.  He and our parish priest also washed the feet of all the congregants. I was on the Bishop’s side of the room, so I went forward and he washed my feet, never looking up.  He gently rinsed and dried my feet with a soft white towel. As I stood to walk away,  I wanted to say “Thank You,” but it didn’t seem quite appropriate.  At the same time, I felt like one of the nine lepers Jesus healed who didn’t bother to turn around and say a word of gratitude.  I wonder if any of the disciples thanked Jesus.  Or were they too stunned to say anything? I wonder if Jesus looked them in the eye, or if he cast his eyes downward, too, not wanting to draw attention to his own person.

As the service ended, the lights dimmed, the choir recessed to a quiet chant, and the altar guild stripped the altar as usual.  I don’t ever remember seeing what happened next at a Maundy Thursday service previously, but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before.  The Bishop returned to the altar, now bare, and began washing it with a cloth and a bowl of water.  He was wearing a black apron over his robe.  As he walked past on his way to the altar, I had the distinct image of a bartender.  And as he wiped the altar with repeated, reaching passes the image only deepened. The deep wood grains of the altar…the Bishop reaching methodically in wide circles with a white cloth…and the words to the song Closing TIme leaped into my mind.

Now, before I lose you, I’m going to ask that you just stick with me on this for a few minutes.  My first thought, too, was that this was an absolutely crazy connection to make.  But read the lyrics…

Closing time, open all the doors,
And let you out into the world,
Closing time, turn all of the lights on,
Over every boy and every girl.

Closing time, one last call for alcohol,
So finish your whiskey or beer,
Closing time, you don’t have to go home,
But you can’t stay here.

I know who I want to take me home,
I know who I want to take me home,
I know who I want to take me home,
Take me home.

Closing time, time for you to go out,
To the places you will be from,
Closing time, this room won’t be open,
Till your brothers or your sisters come.

So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits,
I hope you have found a friend,
Closing time, every new beginning
Comes from some other beginning’s end, yeah.

I know who I want to take me home,
I know who I want to take me home,
I know who I want to take me home,
Take me home…

…Closing time, every new beginning,
Comes from some other beginning’s end.

You know, the image of the Bishop as bartender, closing the bar down at 3 a.m., mopping up the dregs of beer and whiskey left on the table is a pretty powerful image of servanthood alone, but I happened to hear an interview with Dan Wilson this week about the meaning of this song.  It was written about the birth of a child.  He admits that it has two meanings, but his first image as he wrote it was that of a child in the womb, ready to be born, ready for that new beginning.

And if you read the lyrics again in the light of the events of Holy Week, that image of birth and rebirth just leap out at you!  The image of Jesus sending the disciples out “to the places you will be from…till your brothers or your sisters come.”  This “last” supper with the disciples is the end from which the new beginning springs.

But on this Thursday night, as Jesus was arrested and taken away from them, I’m betting the disciples had a hard time seeing beyond “the end,” beyond closing time.  They’ve been told that it doesn’t really matter where you go, but you can’t stay here.  In this one night, everything changed.  Endings lead to beginnings. But what those beginnings will be are sometimes vastly uncertain.  Jesus gave the disciples a way through that, though.  He gave them a calling, a goal, a focus.  Serve others, and everything else will be alright.

I want to thank the Bishop, not only for washing my feet, but for giving me this image of servanthood.  And of beginnings and endings.  Of fear and calm.  Of anticipation.  And of birth, and light and life. As I look back and I see the arching movements of his arms on the table, I see him preparing a place where new life will be welcomed, where the light will shine brightly, where new friendships will be forged, life-long relationships, longer-than-life-long relationships.

Something new is coming.  Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.  And, I know who I want to take me home.  But for now, let me out into the world.  To go in peace; to love and, yes, to serve.

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