Gospel: John 13:1–17
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever had a really awkward experience with a friend? Maybe it’s that they have done something outside their normal self and are acting a little weird, a little off, and you don’t know how to respond. Perhaps they have just helped you with something that makes you uncomfortable, like a personal or money issue. Or maybe some new information about themselves has been shared that makes the whole dynamic of the relationship change, some past life that you knew nothing about. Suddenly, the relationship takes a new turn and a new idea of normal needs to be developed in order for the friendship to survive.
I imagine this was exactly what the disciples must have felt like during the readings that make up this Maundy Thursday. “My soul is troubled,” Jesus said, “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” These words, this confession, set a new tone in John’s gospel. This is one of the first times in the gospel where Jesus admits that this won’t be pretty. He has seemed to be pretty much in control this whole time, healing people, teaching with authority, and performing sign after sign of God’s kingdom, power, and love. But now Jesus is saying something different. He’s saying that what comes next won’t be comfortable. This won’t be easy. We are so used to the idea that Jesus was in control at all times, focusing only on the divinity of Jesus, that we forget that Jesus was human, too. He ate and drank like us. He has friends and family, like us. He knew the pain of hunger, grief, and hard work. He knew his time was coming and he knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. But this act of submission to God’s will changed the course of history. But, before his death, he did a few things that further show his love and service to the people of God. Before he died, he wanted to share a meal with his friends.
During this meal, his last meal before execution, he not only submitted to God, but submitted to his disciples. Knowing that God’s good and perfect will would be done, Jesus humbled himself. He washed his disciples’ feet. Now, this may seem a little weird to us because we don’t really do this anymore. When someone comes to my house, I take their coat, I don’t wash their feet. It was customary, at that time, to wash feet because in the midst of walking around, feet get dirty. These disciples have by walking around in sand, dirt, mud, and around animals in nothing but leather sandals, if that. Their feet had been washed hundreds of times, but this time was much different. Why is that such a big deal? Why should we take note of this? Because washing feet was a slave’s job or a disciple’s job. It was customary for feet to be washed, but never by someone in authority. If anything, it should be the other way around. Followers would often wash the feet of their leaders. When we hear the gospel later, listen for the note of confusion in Peter’s voice. “Are you going to wash my feet? Seriously? Are you kidding me?”
In a society that placed a high priority on power and shame, this would not have been how a teacher or rabbi should act, much less a Messiah. It would be shameful to see a figure of authority doing such a thing. But, once again, Jesus doesn’t play by the rules. Instead of ruling to be served, he humbles himself to serve others. When Peter tells him to stop, Jesus says that unless he washes his feet, Peter won’t be clean. Unless Jesus serves him, feeds him, and dies for him, he can’t be clean.
This is jarring for us to hear and experience. We often pride ourselves for doing things on our own, for showing initiative, for building ourselves up. We often live our lives from check point to check point, goal to goal, and we feel pretty good about ourselves when we achieve something. Not acheiving is to risk looking weak, foolish, or lazy. Perhaps we aren’t as far away from the shame culture as we hoped. But when we see the work of Jesus, see what he did, and see how he responds to Peter, we have to reevaluate. Instead of saying we don’t need any help, this is the time when we admit that we do. But the thing is: we don’t like needing help, yet this is the point in which we need it most. And it gets awfully uncomfortable. What do we say? How do we respond? What is next? We can never pay Jesus back; our debt was too big. We can’t just pretend it never happened; when you truly grasp the enormity of Jesus’ actions, how could we? Ultimately, all we can ever do is say, “Thank you,” which doesn’t really seem like enough.
Luckily for the disciples, Jesus knew what to do next. After serving them by washing feet, he served them a small meal of bread and wine. Just after this washing, he blessed bread and wine and gave it new meaning and life. No longer is this simple meal of food and drink simply sustenance for our bodies, but, paired with the Word of God, it is nourishment for our very souls, reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice and service. We commonly call this act, which we do frequently, communion, which is perhaps the perfect description. We find ourselves partaking in the broken body and spilled blood of Christ, bring us into union with him. Perhaps this, this act of service and unity with Christ, is the perfect response to Jesus’ service to us.
The whole world is turned around in what Jesus does. Suddenly, power doesn’t domineer, demanding obedience, but is, instead, displayed by submitting to the welfare of others and showing love. Suddenly, the master isn’t greater than the slave and the dirty work is for all to do together. Despite feeling uncomfortable, we allow ourselves to be washed and cleaned by our Lord and Savior. Despite our hesitation, we serve each other because that is the example Jesus gave to us and we let ourselves be served by one another. We all need cleaning. We all need compassion and communion with God and with each other. And we’ll have a chance to do that later in the service as we invite you to have your feet washed.
The foot washing is totally voluntary, but I hope you’ll choose to experience that. There will be 4 stations, 2 in front and 2 in the back, and there will be people there, ready to wash you. No feet are too big, small, smelly, or ugly. We want to do this for you. If you choose to do it, go to a station, take off your shoes and socks, and the washers will do the rest. They will wash your feet and dry them, and then you can put your shoes on and return to your seat. This may seem out of the ordinary, but God doesn’t call us to be ordinary. God calls us to follow Jesus and example of love and service.
Maybe one of the most amazing things about Jesus, in this celebration of Maundy Thursday, is that he didn’t wait for the disciples to get in line or volunteer like we will. He didn’t wait for them to say a prayer the right way or make sure they hadn’t committed any sins. He came to them, in their normal, everyday state of being. He didn’t ask them to come to him, instead, he went to them. In the same way, Jesus didn’t make sure that the disciples were perfect before he fed them, saying, “This is my body and this is my blood.” Even Judas, the man who would betray him that very same night, was washed and fed by Jesus. There was no one there and there is no one here who deserves what Jesus did. But, thank God, we have a savior who doesn’t wait for us to deserve it. Jesus humbled himself without demanding us to do the same. Jesus gave himself for us without commanding that we follow the rules beforehand. Jesus died to save us from our sin, from our shame, from our brokenness, and from our failures without us signing on the dotted line or pledging allegiance to him.
On this night, this very night, when Jesus took a basin of water and the simple foods of his day, he totally transformed the world. No longer is it about us, meeting our needs and being self-sufficient. No longer is it about following all the rules and then maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll find union with God. Now, it’s all about what Christ did, is doing, and will continue to do to redeem a world that God loves so much. No longer do we avoid the filth of this world, but we enter into it, serving and feeding and loving all those we meet. When it’s all done, when the Kingdom has been revealed in its fullness, we’ll see that that is what it’s all about anyway.
As we are washed, let us be moved to wash others. As we are made whole, let us reflect on where our wholeness comes from. As we continue our journey, let us see and experience God’s love in a brand new way. Amen.