Tonight is Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. This is the night we remember the work of Christ’s hands. These are the very hands that will soon have nails driven through them securing them to a rough-hewn cross. But before that, the coarse, calloused hands of a carpenter turned wandering Rabbi take bread, break it and give it to the gathered disciples. They take the cup, bless it and share it. Then the hands of the Messiah gently and lovingly wash the disciples’ travel-weary feet.
The Blackburn House, the Christian intentional community I direct and call home, is situated in Todd, North Carolina. Todd is a town of farmers and artists; a town for those who work with their hands. Our neighbors are beekeepers, carpenters, woodworkers, puppeteers, farmers, gardeners, kayakers, and bakers. My house members paint, write, cultivate our garden, prepare dinner for each other, pray together, and eat together, among other things. I love Todd and I love our house, but lest I overly romanticize the work of an intentional community, my own hands recently taught me how far I was from the posture of humility needed to live together; how far I was from the posture of the kneeling Messiah.
About a month ago in the middle of a house meeting about our community initiatives I realized that my hands were under the table, clenched into fists. I looked down at them, opening them to see the little red crescents my fingernails had made in my palms. I was frustrated beyond belief. We weren’t doing enough for the community, we weren’t present enough in our community and even the small things we managed to accomplish moved at a glacial speed. Living in community was harder than we could have imagined. But even so, I had allowed the frustrations of thwarted expectations to harden into resentments and these had made life together miserable.
Then I stumbled upon this quote in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.” It is difficult to let go of your dream long enough to love flesh and blood people. It requires an attitude of constant, mutual forgiveness. In intentional community forgiveness is not a program we pull off the shelf when necessary, but a way of living. We have to learn how to forgive and ask for forgiveness as often as we breathe. And this mutual forgiveness requires a constant attitude of humility. It means constantly kneeling before those we have covenanted to live with, unclenching our fists and offering our hands in service to them, to reach forward and enact “ambiguous and messy attempts to find our way back to one another.”
The reason we attempt this difficult and messy business of living together is because when Christ washed his disciples’ feet, it was not only a blessing, but a calling. Christ makes this clear when he tells his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV) Love one another, love one another, love one another. Christ repeats the command three times. Love one another in the posture the King has taken, kneel before each other, wash each other’s weary feet, and approach each other with humility and forgiveness. Tonight my housemates and I will take this posture, washing each other’s feet and praying that through this activity, we might be counted among those called disciples.
Lindsey Long is the Abbess and Director of Blackburn House, an intentional community in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. She and her housemates help lead worship at Blackburn’s Chapel UMC, cultivate a community garden and attempt to live life together.