I waited in line for nearly an hour last Saturday afternoon. It was ‘Community Shred Day’ at our local credit union, you see, and I had shredding to do.
My mother retired from teaching third grade twenty-one years ago this spring. All these years she has kept the grade-books from her last ten years in the classroom. For many of those years they were neatly lined upon the bottom shelf of the bookcase in her home office. When asked why she kept them, she said she wanted to be able remember the children.
When we moved her in with me last fall, though, there was nowhere to put them and so it seemed it was finally time to dispose of them. As for me, I wouldn’t have thought twice about tossing them into the recycling bin. It has been such a long time, after all. “But, no,” she insisted. “Those grades are confidential.” And so for the last six months they have sat next to our home shredder, waiting to be destroyed. Only it was not a small job and it didn’t get done and it didn’t get done. When I heard I could easily drop them off and someone else would shred them for us, I suggested that was the day. And so she sat in her recliner and carefully pulled out the class lists — holding on to the names of children who by now may well have third graders of their own — and letting me tear out all the rest of the pages into a box and into the back of my car.
And by now, these several days later, those probably long forgotten grades are obliterated — gone to join bank records and old tax forms and who knows what else in a semi-truck load full of confetti sized pieces of paper. All that is left are the names of hundreds of children which a long retired elementary school teacher can’t quite bear to get rid of.
Now to be sure, this is certainly not an adequate comparison for the way in which Jesus deals with you and me. Even so, in this Gospel for Maundy Thursday, we hear about Jesus kneeling at the feet of the disciples, serving them. We hear about him washing their feet. And yes, we hear him say that this washing is necessary and now they are clean. Their Teacher and Friend, Master and Lord washes them clean. By Jesus’ action, all is forgiven and forgotten except for his profound love for them. And yes, on this day Jesus extends to them and to all of us a New Commandment calling us to love one another in the same way he has loved us.
And so yes, isn’t this a little like an old third grade teacher — still loving those children enough after all these years to guard their privacy — and still holding them close enough to heart to seek to remember them even now? Not by how well they did or did not do — but by the simple certainty that they were and they are and they once sat in her classroom? Isn’t that a little like how Jesus loved us and loves us still? Judging us not by what we have done or not done, but always only with a heart of love? I can’t help but wonder what that would look like if we, indeed, were to live and love in that way, too. As Jesus calls us to now.
There are lots of ways to imagine what the forgiveness of sins can ‘look like.’ Being washed clean is the one that is presented in this familiar Gospel story. Does ‘shredding’ also work? Why or why not? What other image might you use?
For the most part, I rather like the idea that any record of what I ‘have done or not done’ will one day be destroyed and all that will be left is Jesus’ love for me. I do say this somewhat guardedly, for I suppose there are parts of what I have done that I feel some pride in…At the same time, I am deeply aware that whatever I do will never be enough. In the end, wouldn’t we rather be judged only by love?