Preached on 2 April 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Maundy Thursday, Year B
Jesus will be arrested later tonight.
And he knows. Soon the peace of dinner with friends will turn to shock and chaos as men with clubs show up at the garden in the darkness of the night.
He knows he will suffer and die. And he knows it will be hard for his disciples to endure his suffering, because that’s how friendship and love are. Think about a time when you have had to stand by, helplessly, while someone you love was suffering.
He knows they will be devastated and they will be confused; more than confused – their understanding of the world will be shattered; they will feel like they don’t know which way is up.
He knows that they, too, will be persecuted and suffer and most of them will die a painful, too-soon death – because of him; because he called them and they followed. That, too, gives him pain.
He knows there is very little time left. So he spends those last hours with them fervently praying to God for them, giving them final instructions, and reminding them of everything he taught them.
He knows that in the confusion and chaos in the days and months and years ahead, they will need something to hang onto. And so, he gives them rituals. Rituals that connect them to their history and point them to the future. Rituals using the familiar, the basics of everyday life – water, bread, wine, oil.
The word, Maundy, comes from the Latin word for commandment. Tonight we remember the three commandments that Jesus gave his disciples that night. In each, Christ is made present to us as we fulfill them – in the ritual itself, in the community, in the Body gathered.
“Love one another,” he says. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. That’s how the world will know you are my disciples, because you have love for one another.” He’s not talking about affection. It’s about caring for one another. Seeing that each has what they need – physical/ bodily needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. In other words, “Have each other’s backs.” We serve Christ in one another and Christ serves us through one another.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” he says. Using the staples of every meal, bread and wine, he reminds them of who they are. They are People of the Covenant; the People the Lord brought out of Egypt out of the land of bondage. They are People of the Passover and he connects the ritual of the Passover to the ritual of bread and wine.
This will remind them they are People of the New Covenant in his blood; not the blood of lambs or goats or oxen, but his blood. Whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so we do. We, too, are People of the New Covenant.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of this and tells them that every time they do, they are proclaiming his death – every time we celebrate Holy Communion, we proclaim his death; we proclaim his resurrection; we proclaim life!
And third, Jesus washed their feet and said, “You also should wash one another’s feet.” In Jesus’ day, people travelled on foot and their feet were usually dirty and smelly. Washing a guest’s feet was an act of hospitality, often done by servants of slaves. In washing one another’s feet, we are reminded of where we fit in the kingdom of God. No one is greater than another. We all have feet that get dirty and smelly and need washing.
In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to wash one another’s feet. For most of us, this may be the most uncomfortable of these commandments. It’s intimate; we may feel vulnerable. Usually, it’s having our feet washed that causes the most discomfort.
In our “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” culture we are uncomfortable having someone else do for us what we can (and think we should) do for ourselves. But in caring for each other in this way, we remember that we are in fact dependent on one another; we have a responsibility to one another. For much of the world, hospitality is not a matter of being nice, it’s a matter of survival.
Perhaps we don’t want others to see our dirty, smelly feet. Or perhaps it reminds us of dirty, smelly places within ourselves that we would rather not expose, that are in need of Jesus’ washing.
Maybe the discomfort is the point. Following Christ means going where we may not otherwise go. It means doing what we might not otherwise do. It means risking discomfort.
I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to receive Christ in each other, to serve Christ in each other and to reorient yourself in God’s kingdom with this sacramental act.
“Believe in God, believe also in me,” Jesus says.
Let us put our trust in him – because he knows.
He knows we need the rituals and the sacraments:
He knows we still need to be nourished by the bread and wine of the New Covenant.
He knows we still need to care for one another, loving each other as he loves us.
He knows we still need to wash one another’s feet.