Of Trousers and Towels: A Maundy Thursday Sermon

Who else enjoys reading Terry Pratchett? I have to admit that after a hard day’s bishopping, I do enjoy curling up with one of his Discworld novels with their ever rolling stream of wit and surprising thoughtfulness.

In one of them he invented the phrase ‘The Trousers of Time’ to describe how when we make a significant choice, it is as if we opt to go down one leg of the trousers of time, rather than the other – which he imagines as also having its own alternative reality.

Some choices are more significant than others. Pratchett’s of course are mostly silly ones, and designedly so. But in a similarly titled book ‘The Trousers of Reality’, business coach Barry Evans uses the same image to more serious intent. He observes how even good business ideas become commercialised and even weaponized – promoted by their adherents to the detriment of others. Collaboration and integration might produce a better result, but not a better profit. Why do we do it to ourselves, Evans wonders. The aggression and stress is good for no-one. So, he says, let’s choose the trouser leg of our common humanity – which is the real reality of life – and find better, fairer ways of moving forward.

This is of course the very choice that Jesus made and invites us to make on this Maundy Thursday – except that he knows all too well how costly the choice is and what must be confronted if we are to make it. This is where the towel comes in. The basic trouser-leg choice is whether we are to live our life for ourselves, or for others. The towel is the symbol and acted parable of Jesus’ very real, very deliberate self-stripping, laying aside his majesty, giving himself in humility, serving others en route to his final self-sacrifice on the Cross.

Do you remember when, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan allows himself to be killed, he knows that by using his power and authority to absorb evil not replicate it, he turns the evil on its head and it starts to work backwards. The trousers of time. God in Jesus has opened up again the leg of life in the most surprising way.

This is why Jesus asks his disciples to do as he has done. Why his new commandment is that they love one another, as he has loved them.

How can we make that choice? Our whole human nature seems to pull us away from it, down the leg of competition and conflict, alternatively lashing out and nursing our wounds. I am no shakes as a psychologist but I see here, in myself and others, an inner child or self that is still looking for love, still reacting in childish ways to the challenges of adult life.

It is significant then, that when Jesus goes on to talk about us loving one another he says ‘as I have loved you’. He knows the love of the Father, so he is free to love us to the end. If we can know his love and remain in it, we too will be free to love to the end.

And at this point it is quite simply a choice. Our inner child may want to sit around for ever waiting for ever more signs of God’s love, good feelings and affirmation. I hope we all find some of these, but feelings will never be enough to provide the foundation we need for the future.

At some point we have to use an adult will and have faith, choose life, choose to live life not for ourselves but others. Not everyone will, but as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples he is praying that they will, and I am praying that you will, and will keep on doing so, and drawing others into that same choice – down the right leg of the trousers.

Oakington Parish Church, 5th April 2012