Preached on 13 April 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
It’s Holy Week. Today we begin the Triduum, three holy days; one liturgy extending over three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
It is a holy time and we are on holy ground. Because this is a church and the bishop came and consecrated it oh so many years ago? No. It’s holy because we’re here; because you’re here and because God is here and makes it holy. God makes you holy. Set apart for God. Set apart by God for God. That’s what holiness means. So, we are together on Holy Ground tonight and we will be tomorrow and the next night.
We come together to hear God’s Word and to share in God’s Sacraments. This first of the three Holy Days is Maundy Thursday. It comes from the Latin word for commandment. On this day, we remember and respond to Jesus’ commandments to his disciples on the night he was betrayed. But Jesus didn’t give orders, he gave us an example to follow.
Maundy Thursday focuses on the gift of community and fellowship, God’s gift to us of each other and how Jesus teaches us to care for and nurture this precious gift. We hear it in the Gospel reading from John and also in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Both are recalling that last night Jesus spent with his disciples; knowing what was about to happen and reminding them of what they had seen and learned while they were with him.
He gives them tangible ways to remember, so that in the days to come when it will seem that their world has come crashing down, they will be able to recall once again in the familiar, the things they do every day, what Jesus taught them, showed them, about the kingdom of God.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. Eat this bread, that you eat every day. Drink this wine, that you drink every day. And whenever you do, do it in remembrance of me. Every meal will be a reminder of Jesus and what he taught them. Then they do it; he gives them an example.
In this sacrament, God nourishes us with the very essence of Christ – not only our bodies and souls, but the Body; the Body of Christ, bringing us together nourishing us as one community for service.
Jesus gives us the stuff of ever day life so that even when we’re apart, we might eat this bread in remembrance of Christ; in remembrance that we are One not only with Christ but with each other. In remembrance that we are on Holy Ground.
Jesus gives them the new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should have love for one another.” Just as I have loved you, he says. His whole life with them has been an example of what he’s asking them to do as a way of life. Of living on Holy Ground.
And finally, Jesus sets the example of washing the disciples’ feet. Then he tells them, you also should wash one another’s feet.
In some Christian traditions, footwashing is the central sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Much as the bread and wine of communion are a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, washing one another’s feet is a foretaste of community and service on the Holy Ground of the world.
Washing feet is different now than what it was then. We do it ourselves, in the privacy of our bathrooms. It’s no longer a practice of hospitality or a sign of hierarchy where servants and slaves do the washing and lords and masters are washed. That’s why it bothered Peter and the others so much.
For us, it is uncomfortable, too, just in a different way. Some people think feet are funny-looking. Some are ticklish. Some are smelly. Sometimes we adorn them with jewelry or polish. Usually, we hide them inside shoes and socks.
Many people are much more comfortable serving others than being served. To be served may mean allowing yourself to be somewhat vulnerable. Practicing community means both – serving and being served, humility and vulnerability – it’s practicing loving one another, just as Jesus loved the disciples; just as Jesus loves us.
Washing one another’s feet is even more than that. It is a sacramental act. It is taking the stuff of everyday life and seeing the Holy in it. It is a “Do this in remembrance of me” action.
When you put your shoes on every day, remember that you will be walking on Holy Ground that God goes with you. And when you take them off, think about and pray for the Holy Ground you share with everyone here, and with the whole Body of Christ and all the ground in between its members. It’s all Holy Ground.
We are gathered here, God’s gift to us of each other: Holy People on Holy Ground, nourished in community, breaking bread together.
I invite you, now, to follow Jesus’ example and command that we also should wash one another’s feet.