Putting on an apron

There’s a very ancient way of reflecting on a passage from Scripture that is called Lectio Divina or sacred reading. You read the passage slowly, until you come to a word or phrase that sticks in your mind or prods your imagination and says, ‘Stop, stay with me for a while’.

Well, I was reading Luke chapter 12 and I got as far as verse 37. You might remember it, a sentence about the master, arriving home way past his servants’ normal bedtimes, coming in and being so pleased to see that they were expecting him that that he put on an apron and served them all a late night supper.

 Now there are probably deep theological insights to be gained from a prayerful and studious reading of the whole of this passage from Luke’s Gospel, but the apron got me. Here’s a macho Jewish man of means putting on an apron and proceeding to wait on his servants.

The image of the apron recalled another passage, the one that tells of Jesus removing his outer garment, wrapping a towel around his waist and proceeding to wash the feet of all gathered around the Passover table. The master is also the servant.

And I wonder what happened to that beautiful model of service in the years between then and now. It seems that gradually Jesus’ action just lingered as words on a page, resurrected symbolically on Holy Thursday every year. Meanwhile the titles, housing, clothing and lifestyle of worldly leaders became the norm for Church leaders.

Vinnie Van

I once heard a priest suggest that parents changing a baby’s nappy a dozen times in a day might be seen as a twenty first century washing of the feet, or put another way, the master waiting on the one assumed to be inferior.

So many ordinary women and men, wrap symbolic aprons or towels around their middle and serve others in the name and spirit of Jesus – a carer massaging skin cream into the stiff fingers and dry skin of an elderly patient, a hairdresser volunteering time and skill to shampoo and blow-dry the thin hair of a dozen nursing home residents, Day after day, Polish men and women preparing thousands of meals for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian army.

We call our Church leadership the hierarchy; there’s a top and a bottom and lots of stages in between. The trouble with this model is that we have used it to opt out of our Baptismal call to be both foot washer and the one whose feet are washed.

Sometimes I think it’s our own fault that our Church hierarchy has by and large tumbled off its collective pedestals. After all, we put them there when we didn’t insist and expect that they be accountable to the communities they served. There are times when we excuse our clergy instead of reminding them of our expectations that they journey side by side with us.   

It saddens and angers me when I hear about Church communities who have been sidelined by a priest leader who has no respect for the needs and gifts of the people he serves. Then I want to know why we let this happen. What if instead of letting our priests and bishops behave like (some) big businesses, we let them know that we need them to respect us as we respect them.

We are the Church. What if we meant it?

Judith judith@judithscully.com.au

3 Replies to “Putting on an apron”

  1. Oh you do it every time. Such profound insight.
    What if what if! Many aeons ago as parish president I put my apron on to prepare a meal for the Bishops annual visit. I had dressed in burgundy and when the meal was concluded removed my apron. The said Bishop commented on the colour of my outfit and I recall telling him I was practising to be a bishop! Needless to say he almost had apoplexy and our encounter was not viewed as fruitful. Oh glory

  2. Dear Judith

    Can you believe I read this properly today? I love it – so insightful, real and wise – just like you! I have shared with a few friends.

    I wish you abundant Easter blessings and hope it includes time with your family and sunshine!

    Unusually, one sister will be at Randwick Races, the other will have Mum and her own family for lunch on Sunday and I’ll be at Royal Easter Show (Sydney) on Sunday with friends, staying over until Monday. I haven’t been for decades and look forward to it – despite a young man being stabbed to death in sideshow alley earlier in the week…I think it was a ‘gang’ matter, not random.

    I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that Mum had a fall on 9 Feb, 8 nights in hospital and ‘prescribed’ a pacemaker. Despite having private health, we are still waiting for a date for what is a fairly routine procedure. Soooo frustrating, she’s quite weak and can’t drive until she’s recovered. She turned 86 last month.

    My uncle came off a motorbike on Wallangarra property on Monday (82) and was flown to Brisbane for surgery. We’ve just heard that all went well and he’s in good spirits. He’s probably fitter and stronger than I am but still…

    Keep up the good work and one day we’ll meet again,

    Love Tracey

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