Year C, Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Trinity Church on the Green
Tonight is one of the most holy nights of our church year. Maundy Thursday is the start of the Triduum, the three days of Christ’s passion. Tonight is holy, because we as the family of faith gather together at the table to remember Jesus, and how he modeled to us to love. Tonight, we remember the one whom we, like the disciples in John’s Gospel have dearly loved, and are about to lose to death.
And in the midst of this solemnity, we wash each other’s feet. How odd, awkward, and delightful. Where else can one get the chance to wash a stranger’s feet (I mean, for no pay)? This is truly one of those unique church experiences that you can’t find this anywhere else. Tonight, we also gather to also share stories, share a meal, love one another, and bid farewell to our dear friend, as the disciples did so many years ago.
It is so interesting that in our Gospel passage, John’s telling of the Last Supper, there is no mention of Jesus instituting the Last Supper into the ritual practice that we now know as the Eucharist. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels all record Jesus taking bread and wine, and asking the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” But John has a different take: instead, Jesus takes off his robe, ties a towel around himself, and washes the disciples’ feet. It would not have been so strange if Jesus were one of the household servants. But Jesus is their teacher, and their lord. What did the disciples say? Was there awkward laughter? Did they all fall silent? Was Peter the only one who resisted, or just the one who was eventually remembered as doing so? Peter being Peter objects Jesus’ actions, but then when Jesus convinces Peter it is necessary, Peter goes overboard, asking Jesus to also wash his hands and his head. When Jesus is finished, he puts his robe back on, and joins them back at the table. Were they dumbfounded? Jesus has to ask them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” No one answers, so Jesus says, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
One of the moments in which I felt my strongest sense of call to the priesthood was on one Maundy Thursday. I had just returned to church – I hadn’t been in a good while. And there I was, and there was to be foot washing. I immediately felt anxious – I think many people do around foot washing. Do my feet smell, how is my pedicure, will I be judged? Will I judge others? Will I have to touch someone’s gross, ugly feet? That night, at that church, the priests and the deacon did all the foot washing. One of the priests was quite old – almost 90 – and even he took off his stole, and stooped down to wash the feet of person after person. He did it with love, gentleness, and with humor. It was such a pristine, beautiful church, and the foot washing caused a BIG mess – there was water everywhere, used towels everywhere. There was intimacy, friendship, and laughter, as solemn music was sung. And so, I got my feet washed, too. And I realized then that I could and would wash others’ feet again.
The harder learning along the way was to also allow others to wash my feet. Many of us who are called into ministry and other human service vocations can go so far overboard serving others that we never allow for others to care for us. We can get so caught up in the details, that we lose sight of Jesus’ command to love each other – which starts with first loving our own selves, and allowing ourselves to BE loved.
Tonight, I encourage the perfectionists and over-functioners among us to take a deep breath, and take off our socks. Through the waters of baptism, we have all been called into Jesus’ ministry of caring for and restoring a broken world. We are also all in need of the ongoing cleansing forgiveness of God, and the bathing of our weary feet, if we are to have the strength and compassion to continue God’s work in the world.
Tonight, may we realize that all the stories, all of Jesus’ miracles, all of Jesus’ preaching, teaching and feeding: it all points to the New Commandment: LOVE. Tonight’s foot washing points to love. In fact, all that we do here at Trinity really points to to that one, great thing!
The Eucharists we share,
the beautiful music we sing, the programs and potlucks and soup kitchen dinners,
the concerts, dramas, and pageants,
the grants we give away,
the learning we share as children and adults,
the ways we greet and welcome and usher each other,
the flowers, Easter egg hunts, funerals, weddings, baptisms, sheep, llamas and even a donkey – all that we do and share here in so many variety of ways…. it ultimately points to LOVE. Just as we humans have different love languages, the church has different love languages. And ultimately, all that we do is to point to LOVE. A love beyond measure. I love we cannot fully comprehend.
Tonight, may we encounter Jesus and his love as we bathe and care for each other. Tonight, may we recommit to the New Commandment, that we love our own selves and one another, just as Jesus loves us. May we share that love in all that we do. By this we will be known as Jesus’ disciples, if we have love for one another.