Sermon for Maunday Thursday April 02, 2015 Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
Jesus was famous for teaching in parables, so when he comes out and tells us plainly what he wants us to know, or to do, we aren’t always ready, and we may struggle to grasp the full meaning. Tonight we hear the story from John’s Gospel of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, then giving them, and thus all Christians, a new commandment, to love one another the way Jesus loves us.
Two things about the foot washing stood out as strange. One was that this job would have been done by the lowest-ranking person, never by the leader. The second was that the foot washing would have been done before the meal, not during. These were both for the same reason, that people’s feet were really gross back then. A servant who pulled foot-washing duty was going to encounter every unpleasant thing that could happen to a foot. So by interrupting the dinner to do this, Jesus clearly wasn’t doing it as an end in itself, but to make a point. He demonstrated humility and service, but those were just aspects of what he was trying to show: love.
When we see Jesus, we see God. When we see Jesus washing feet, we see how much God loves us. We will see the breadth and depth of God’s love tomorrow, when we see Jesus on the Cross. But tonight we see the intimacy and immediacy of God’s love. That love is what I want us to focus on, not the act of foot washing that is meant to point to God’s love. And with our feet being much, much cleaner than the disciples’ feet were, the symbolism wouldn’t work the way it did then.
So let’s look at the symbolism, instead of the feet. That’s a lot of dirt to cleanse. Jesus knew the disciples’ hearts as much as he knew their feet, and he knew how much their hearts needed cleansing. Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, and he knew the others were going to let him down. He cleansed them, fed them, loved them anyway. Perhaps he loved them all the more because they were flawed, and deep down they knew it. Or in Peter’s case, not that deep at all. You can imagine him starting to catch on to what Jesus was doing and bursting out, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He knew he needed to be a better person, and that Jesus was not only his friend and his teacher, but the way to becoming closer to God, and his desire to be closer to God was not an aspiration, but a primitive urge like hunger, and Peter wasn’t too proud or sophisticated to pretend his hunger was something more presentable.
And Jesus responded to Peter, and worked with him, and gave him what he needed. He gave his disciples forgiveness for their sins, even for the sins they didn’t realize they had committed. He gave them his body and his blood, most visibly on the cross but first at table. And with them he gave them a new commandment that would redefine their discipleship. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“Just as I have loved you.” It sounds so simple, yet by connecting those words to the actions that preceded and followed them we realize the magnitude and profundity of the commandment, as well as its impossibility. None of us will live up to that commandment, not all the time; we know that, and Jesus knows too, and so he loves us all the more, doing the wonderful and troubling and awe-inspiring things we hold close to our hearts in these most sacred of days.