Revised and preached on 29 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Maundy Thursday, Year B
Introduction to the gospel
On Sunday, I invited you to experience Holy Week; to go on a journey of the soul with Christ. For the next three days, we will be immersed in the story of Christ as told by John.
As you listen to the gospel this evening, imagine yourself within the story. And try to imagine it taking place in this time and place, right now, in this room.
What we do here tonight is not simply remembering or re-enacting an event that took place 2,000 years ago. We are not pretending to be Jesus’ disciples. We are disciples.
After reading the gospel
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 even as he shares a bowl with him, Judas has betrayed him. He knows Peter, his passionate, faithful disciple, will deny even knowing him.
He knows the rest will abandon him.
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.
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 hear three commandments that Jesus gives us, his disciples.
In each, Christ is made present to us as we fulfill them – in the ritual itself, in the community, in the Body gathered. In each, God’s kingdom is visibly manifest.
“Love one another,” he says. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love 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.
“Whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup,” Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” So, we do. Using the staples of every meal, bread and wine, Jesus nourishes us with his presence; his body, his very life. He becomes part of us. In this holy meal, we embody the kingdom of God. All are fed. All may drink from a silver chalice, even the poorest of the poor. And we are sent to likewise embody it in the world, so that all are fed and have the necessities of life.
And third, Jesus washes their feet, saying, “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 or slaves. In washing one another’s feet we embody where we fit in the kingdom of God. We are all worthy of care and we all offer care to others.
Jesus washes the feet of his betrayer. He washes the feet of those who will abandon him and deny him. The bond they share, the bond we share, overcomes even abandonment and betrayal. Jesus gives us the sacraments and rituals as pathways of God’s grace. A grace that nourishes relationship and opens the door to reconciliation.
In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to wash one another’s feet. 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.
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.
In our baptismal covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in every person. Tonight, will you seek Christ in your neighbor and allow Christ to wash your feet? Will you wash your neighbor’s feet offering them the opportunity to see Christ?
“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 need to be nourished by the bread and wine of his Presence.
He knows we need to care for one another, loving each other as he loves us.
He knows we need to wash one another’s feet.
After the foot-washing
In the gospel tonight, after he finishes and returns to the table, Jesus asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?” To me, the question has the sense of something that can’t be undone. They can’t un-know or “un-see” what Jesus has revealed; what Jesus has done to them.
What did Jesus do to you tonight?