24 March 2016
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Tonight we begin again the observance of the Paschal Tridium or great three days. We begin with this Maundy Thursday service. It’s a service rich in meaning, celebrating both the first Eucharist and the great commandment. You, remember, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.” Did you notice that was the focus of our Gospel reading tonight? Jesus, in washing the feet of his friends shows us just what he means in saying “love one another”. Our love for one another is made real through humble service to one another. Now, a word about foot washing in the first century. Back then foot washing was an everyday necessity It was an expected service provided by any host focused on hospitality. After all, people wore open sandals and walked most everywhere. But remember, foot washing was a menial task, only the lowliest of slaves were ever asked to perform this service. If the host had no slaves then the guests would be provided with water so they could wash their own feet. At no point would the host wash the feet of the guest. That was just simply not done. The social hierarchy was fixed and someone who was socially superior would simple not wash the feet of someone who was socially inferior. What Jesus did in washing the feet of his friends was shockingly counter-cultural. Can you imagine the emotional impact when Jesus bent to wash the feet of his disciples? Peter, of course, wasn’t having it. He protested vehemently. “You will never wash my feet.” Did you hear Jesus’ reply? “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Ouch.I have to say, I can appreciate Peter’s position. letting someone else wash your feet is awkward at best. washing someone else feet is likewise awkward. It is such an act of intimacy that we want to shy away from it. It’s really embarrassing for most of us. But then that notion serving one another and being served by one another, all by itself, is embarrassing in our culture. It’s just that Jesus’ words from tonight’s Gospel echo through our Christian history. Did you hear his question? Do you know what I have done to you?” Then he goes on to explain that he, our teacher and Lord, as put aside his social standing, his awkwardness and embarrassment, to wash his disciples feet as an example for us.
This week I found myself remembering other foot washing services. In one of the first in my memory, years before I went to seminary, I found myself being washed by a man that, quite frankly, I didn’t like all that much. He seemed so controlling, always wanting his own way in every discussion. We had to work together though. I was on the vestry, he was the Senior Warden. The church was between clergy and we were two of the three people trained to lead worship services. Then there was this experience of the foot washing. And suddenly, it was harder to put his opinions aside. It was harder to reject what he had to say and it was somehow easier to listen to him. It was as though, in that moment of having my feet washed, something profound changed in our relationship. “Love one another” took on a deeper meaning. Again, in my first year of seminary ,the Maundy Thursday service was required of all seminarians, but it was attended by seminary families, kids and adults alike. It was attended by professors from the seminary and from the university. It was attended by retired clergy and other folks from the wider community. It was a big service. And everybody came forward to participate. The sense of unity in all our diversity, the sense of shared relationship was striking. “I give you a new commandment”, said Jesus, “that you love one another…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I wonder, what images, what feelings or fears, does this service of foot washing hold for you? Maybe you’ve participated before, maybe it’s the first time for you. Either way our engagement with the worship, with the drama, of this sacred time can lead to surprising spiritual growth. Maybe it will be something about our nature as followers of Jesus who calls us into humble service. Maybe it will be something about how we are, each of us, a child of God, loved and cared for. Maybe it will something about the nature of Jesus and what his life and death show us about God. Maybe it will be something else entirely. It is different each time. It is something new each time and for each one of us. Maybe this time just isn’t the right time for you, though I hope it will be, in any case pay attention to the service and your response to it. Jesus is calling each of us into deeper relationship, if we are willing. I am going to end now with a question from a meditation I used during Lent several years ago. Listen to it. Be challenged by it “Will you ask God to reveal to you something new this Maundy Thursday”? Will you risk it? Amen.