April, 13, 2017
The “Gospel According to John” is believed to be the last of the Gospels written and to be written many years after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus had happened. The author had all the facts in front of him and there was no need to restate verbatim what had happened, there were others Gospels that did just that. What is different with this Gospel is that this author had the gift of time and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to look at everything before him and answer the question, “What does all this mean?”. That is why it reads more like divine philosophy than it does a history book. Every story is filled with symbolic meaning. Every word has been carefully chosen to get the most meaning out of each recorded event. So much so, that you can lose yourself in the discovery of the all the nuances. And so it is with this lesson and with this night. This night is so full of meaning that words written in a single sermon will never reveal its true and complete importance. Sometimes… you just have to live the story in order to understand it. And that is exactly what the church is hoping you will do. These three days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were set aside by the church to be relived every year. Just like the Passover celebration, for the Jewish faith, Passover has never been a memorial service of something that happened in the past, rather, the Passover, is a reliving of an event and making it an experience that is happening in the here and now. In a Jewish family a child will ask at the Seder, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” A question we might very well ask ourselves. This is the night, we will relive the setting aside of bread and wine to be the body and blood of Jesus. This is the night we will relive a moment when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and this is the night we will relive a betrayal so grievous that the only way to express our grief is to remove out of sight everything of beauty and meaning from us in this holy place, leave in silence, and watch in prayer.
This is also the night we will receive a new commandment. Not a commandment written on stone and brought down from a mountain. Not a commandment written on scrolls and interpreted from one generation to the next. Not even a commandment that summarizes all the reflective wisdom of the sages and rabbis from days before. No… this is a new commandment. A commandment, the likes of, has never been seen or heard before. It is a commandment that is given authority from the life of Jesus, himself. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In English, the commandment is only eight words long, but it is eight of the hardest words ever to try and follow. To obey this commandment we have to relive his life. Follow in his footsteps. Make his life our life. And this is the night he showed us how to do it.
This is the night that Jesus….the Christ, the Messiah, the Prince of Life, the Prince of Peace, the King, the King of Kings, the King of the Jews, the King of Saints, the Lamb of God, the Great High Priest, the Redeemer, the Bread of Life, the I Am, the Shepard, the Alpha and the Omega, the Word of God, the Son of God, and a hundred other titles “got up from a dinner table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself and washed the disciples’ feet”. No wonder Peter objected. But Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” So, Peter responded in perfect human form. Instead of seeing the humility in the action he turned the act of service into a major theological point of salvation, “Then wash all of me.” Jesus brushes the attempt aside and Peter, reluctantly, surrenders. Jesus has shown us how to love one another as he has loved us. In great humility. This is the night that the Creator washes the feet of the created out of pure unconditional love and commands us to do the same. This is the night when Jesus called his disciples, the church, and is calling us to a ministry of servanthood. And let us not forget, Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples including the one who would turn around and betray him. The Gospel is clear about this; Jesus knew it all along and deliberately washed his feet anyway. How can we possible do anything less?
Servanthood is so hard to do. This is so counter cultural. Our culture is so fascinated with success. Right now, the values of fame, wealth, and power surround us everywhere. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the advertisements that we hear every day. There is even a whole school of theological thought called “Prosperity Christianity” that is getting many people’s attention. Servanthood is not one of the models that is being highlighted to any degree in our day and age. Never the less, this is the night when Jesus calls his church into the same servanthood that he has always lived out in his life. This is the night when he passes the towel onto us. So… what does this mean?
This is a broken world and there are so many feet to wash. So many people that need served in his name. It will require everyone, every disciple of Jesus, to do what they can. You know them already. There are those far off in distant lands, refugees trying to find a new home, the diseased pleading for health and wholeness, those faced with starvation or thirst, and injustice is everywhere to be found. To wash their feet is to acknowledge their existence. To serve them is nothing less than serving Christ himself.
There are those nearer, right here in our own country. In your hearts you know them already. There are those who seek justice and equality, and dignity of life. As servants we are called to wash their feet. There are those trapped by poverty and financial inequality and judged by a culture blinded by its own greed and distorted sense of success. As servants of Jesus we are called to wash their feet. There are those who are feeble and lonely, without community, who will die alone, suffer without being noticed. There are children whose youth will be deformed by a life without love and acceptance. There are those who are addicted, those who are in prison and those lost in a legal system that is stacked against them. As servants of God we are called to wash their feet and bring in the Kingdom of God.
And there are those who are even closer. You know them already. There are those who are your neighbors, friends and family to you. We serve them as well and we often wash their feet, lovingly. But let us not forget that we are also called to wash the feet of all creation. Our first job was to tend the garden for our God. That job description was never taken away and to serve Jesus also means to serve every creature on this earth, great and small, and the garden that God gave us to share.
This is the night we are shown that loving one another as he has loved us is the only way we have for bringing the Kingdom of God into this world. It is the small simple things that will bring it in, things that came out of a simple meal: Bread, Wine, Water, Hands, and Towels. Bread that feeds us and gives us life and Wine that brings joy and salvation, Water that removes the dust of injustice, hands that wash humbly and restore community, and towels that wipe away poverty, prejudice and class privilege; these are the only answers, not power, or fame, or wealth. And in three days Jesus will show his disciples both then and now how powerful, how transforming, how meaningful, that Servanthood is.