Tonight we will gather to wash each other’s feet as we dive into the deep waters of the Paschal Triduum.
Today I sit outside a courtroom in Detroit awaiting yet another court appearance related to a nonviolent action against water shutoffs in a labyrinthine case that has languished for 33 months. While the long wait for justice in this case has been frustrating, it means little in light of the fact that this morning a child woke up to a home with no water. A home with taps as dry as a desert.
Rachel weeps and so does Jesus.
I’ve gotten here early to find a parking space and avoid the crowds pouring into Comerica Park where the Tigers are playing around the corner. I am totally alone as I sit on a bench along the long, drab third-floor corridor where there is an eerie silence, quiet as a tomb.
As I wait for fellow co-defendants and lawyers to arrive, I reflect on the serendipitous scheduling of our court dates. There has been a liturgical cadence to this case from the beginning. Last year we were summoned to appear on Good Friday, and just last week we were ordered to court on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “A Time to Break Silence” speech, also the 49th anniversary of his martyrdom.
Over the past almost three years we have been in courtrooms on fast days and feast days. During this time, family members and friends have been married and buried. Babies have been born and baptized. Much has changed.
What has not changed, however, is the reality of water shutoffs. Today, thousands in Detroit continue to live without water.
So I sit here in 36th District court on a cold, grey Holy Thursday afternoon and ponder the readings we will hear in church tonight, beginning with the story of Passover.
Here in Detroit where contemporary pharaohs in government offices and gleaming buildings call the shots, the story of homes being passed over has played out differently. Here in Detroit, homes are not marked with the blood of the lamb; rather, homes in which water is shut off are marked with a mocking streak of bright Aegean blue paint on the front sidewalk. A sort of reverse Passover ritual, a perverse sacrament of shame visited upon people who cannot afford their water bills.
And then there is the gospel from John that will be read and enacted in churches around the world tonight. The powerful story and demonstration of what it means to serve others by washing feet following a final meal with friends. An act of selfless love that begs the question:
What if Jesus had no water?
What if Jesus had tied a towel around his waist in preparation for what was perhaps his greatest sermon only to find he had no water to pour into the pitcher?
No water, no washing.
Which is where we find ourselves today. How are we to wash each other’s feet without water?
Today in Detroit, an old woman prays to the foot-washing Jesus to help her make it through one more day without water.
But that’s not the end of the story.
It has been a long Good Friday in Detroit, but injustice does not have the final word.
This courthouse may be closed on Easter, but the resurrection doesn’t march to the beat of business hours.
The day is coming when water will be affordable. A day when water will be protected as a common good rather than a commodity. A day when water is revered as a precious sign and symbol of God’s prodigious and flowing grace.
A day when God will trouble the water on behalf of the poor being crushed by the pharaohs of our time.
Meanwhile, good people in Detroit share water from kitchen sinks and backyard hoses with their neighbors in imitation of the One who calls us to wash the feet of one another.
Today we maybe appearing in 36th District Court, but I’m feeling far more attuned to the courtroom depicted in Matthew 25:
Lord, when did we see you thirsty?
Tomorrow the One who comes to us as neighbor will cry from the cross, I thirst.
Words that echo across the globe. Words that have found a home here in Detroit.
As I give thanks for this time of silence in preparation for the holy days ahead, I lean into the hard-edged promise that God is not mocked and grab hold of the good news that resurrection will have the last word – despite all evidence to the contrary.
The day is coming when the stone will be rolled away and, in the words of the prophet, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Even here in Detroit where so many lack access to affordable water.