Preached on Thursday, 18 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
Jesus knows. He knows that this is the night he will be betrayed. It’s the night he will be arrested. The people with him? They are the ones who have been with him since the beginning. They have walked together for miles and miles, slept under the same roof, shared countless meals, celebrated the holy festivals. He has taught them and confused them, loved them and prayed with them and for them. They have witnessed the miracles, the signs, and they have heard the disputes and the threats.
Tonight, one of them will walk out, leave the relationship without a goodbye – that’s the betrayal in John’s gospel, abandoning his relationship with Jesus. Jesus know which one of these, the people who know him best; he knows which one it will be.
But first, there’s more to do. He knows, too, what they will face: their fear, their anguish, their grief, their doubt. And so, he shares one last meal with his friends – including the one who will betray him. He even shares a bowl with him at dinner.
Jesus reminds them of what they have learned, what they have seen. He fervently prays for them and they hear his prayer.
He gives them a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, he says, you also must love one another.
And he gives them things to do – not just today but in their life together for the rest of their lives. These are tangible signs; touchstones. He gives them the gift of sacrament; the holy experienced in everyday life. It is through these ordinary activities that they will be bound together and reminded that they belong to one another; that they belong to and are beloved of God.
He breaks the bread and passes the cup of wine, the basics of everyday meals, not special food reserved for festivals or holy days, just ordinary bread and wine. Share this, all of you. This is my body; this is my blood; this is the new covenant. Do this in remembrance of me, whenever you drink it.
He washes their feet, humbly serving them; tenderly caring for them – all of them; even Judas. They, too are to wash one another’s feet; to serve one another and care for one another not just for their friends. Afterwards, every time their feet are washed, they will remember this night, when Jesus washes their feet. Imagine if, every time you took a shower, you thought about Jesus. If, every time you put your shoes on, you remembered that time when Jesus showed up in your life.
In the difficult times that will come, when the disciples don’t know what to think; or even what they know, when they don’t know what to do, they will turn to what’s familiar; what they do every day – break bread, drink wine, wash. This gives them a means to bind themselves together and give them strength for whatever the world is throwing at them.
Fear and grief can isolate and incapacitate us. But community bound in love, for love, can overcome fear. It can change the world.
Tonight, we’ll have the opportunity to do what Jesus commanded his disciples – not as a reenactment; not as imitation or pretending to be disciples.
We are Jesus’ disciples.
In a few minutes we will wash one another’s feet. If you’ve never participated in this holy sacrament before, I urge you to give it a try. If you can’t quite go so far as to take off your shoes, allow your sister or brother to wash your hands. And then wash another’s feet, if you’re able.
At the exchange of the Peace, we will go into the church to share the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in remembrance of Jesus.
And finally, before we begin stripping the altar and emptying the sanctuary, we will sit silently in the pews as the Real Presence of Christ, the reserved sacrament and the light of Christ are removed from the church. Feel the loss the disciples felt when he was taken from them in the garden.
When the eucharistic minister and I return to the sanctuary, we will empty the altar and the chancel.
Jesus knows what he will face. He knows what the disciples will face. He knows what we will face. He gives us the gift of sacrament and the gift of each other; the gift of community. Because he knows.