A Maundy Thursday Sermon - John 13:1-17, 31-34
The washing of feet is more than just a pedicure by Jesus. It is more than taking your feet, so dirtied by the day’s travel and toil, and cleaning them up to make them presentable. It is more than a call of service for us to be nice to one another. There is this call to love one another. A call to do as Christ has done, but it is more than simply a bath or a foot fetish. It is a call to become small. A call to become less than. A call to find that we have received all things at the hands of one who bled and died for you; both a washing of feet, but also a washing of the sinner. For he says to you, in no uncertain terms – Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
Maybe it is because, at our core, we really don’t like this Jesus. We don’t like the idea of him stripping down to a towel to wash the dirty feet of his students. We don’t like the idea of him even washing the feet of Judas, because he is so dirty. So ugly. The one who, in less than 24 hours, will betray his Lord into the hands of sinners. We don’t like it because that is not us. We aren’t the betrayer. We aren’t the sinner. We aren’t the dirty or unclean. We are the church. We are God’s chosen people. We are the special ones because God loves us just the way we are.
But then there is that sticky wicket. Unless I wash you, you have no part with me, says Jesus. Unless I take on the most dirty and lowest-of-the-low task, and do to you that which you don’t want, you have no part with me. Even worse, I say to you too, says Jesus, that I have set an example for you that you shall go and do likewise. Because I am your Lord, who serves you, the student; so you are not to do anything you think more superior than what I have done. Therefore, go wash people.
Not a call to arms. Not a command to go overthrow. But a call for washing. To wipe away dirt. To serve in the lowest way possible out of love for all. It may look a little primitive, this washing. But it doesn’t seem too complicated, unless you don’t rather enjoy touching feet. That would be me. I am not fond of feet. I have never had a pedicure because the idea of people touching my feet petrifies me. It’s a reason why I don’t reenact the foot washing on Maundy Thursday.
There are other reasons too. Feet were the cars of the 1st century. They were the mode of transportation. Barefoot or sandaled, that was what got you everywhere. What carried you through life. So having Christ stoop down, remove his clothing, tie on a towel and take the form of a house slave by washing your feet was this work of mercy, that was this washing away of the grime of that day. Of getting ready to take your seat at the table, to bring into the Kingdom. So I always wonder what that is for us today?
And yet, he says, go and do likewise. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” A calling not as a command to say you better do this or else, but a crying to you to offer the washing of Christ to others. To allow yourselves to die and be raised anew, as servants of this serving God. To scream to you to be found in the fountain which is Christ poured out for the world.
Because Christ lays himself bare here, and preaches to you – Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. I shall wash you, and continually do so. I shall continually take your sin, the sin of refusing to be that servant of others and bare it myself and wash you again and again.
When we see this passage we find out how bad we are at this whole Christian business. How remote we become to our calling as followers of Christ to be used by him to bring the washing of rebirth to all the world. How we fail because we pick sides, make ourselves masters, judge others because they aren’t as churchy as we are. Or they vote differently than we do. Or they are too young, too old, too small, too outdated, too progressive, too wordy, too illiterate, too lazy, too busy, too loud, too quiet, too outgoing, even too Jesus-y.
But still – love one another. It is this directive for us, that we might follow in what it is that Christ has done. In the way he has loved us, so we are to love, to follow his example, learning by doing.
The doing? Well, he died on a cross and rose again. That makes washing some feet a little tame in comparison. But this doing, this so-called command, is there to serve these two purposes for you. To call you back to the cross, and to bring the cross to you. Because we know we really suck at this loving thing. If you disagree, think about it this way. Jesus says to you – go and wash Donald Trump’s feet. Or Elizabeth Warren’s. Or Bernie Sanders’. Or whatever the idol is of your political hatred right now. Or maybe it is closer to home and is someone in your own house. Your own family. Someone at work or school. Or worse, sitting in the pew a few seats away from you right now. What does that do to you? Does it anger you? Does it frustrate you? Does it make you disappointed, or shamed, or guilty? That is part of this whole Gospel, Jesus thing.
Words like this do serve to condemn you, but to condemn you into coming to this Jesus who washes that dirt away. Who stands as the embodiment of forgiveness to transform your hearts and break you of this sin. To always be ready with the towel around his waist and the wash basin of the cross to cleanse you of these things. For that is what this table does. That is what this Word does. That is what this Gospel does.
Otherwise we spend all our time judging ourselves or judging others. The washer-man Jesus becomes essential to your daily life as one who stands to kill those judgements. Those thoughts of being the better person, or having to do more. The washer-man Jesus stands continually to shower you with his word, and to dry you with his towel of mercy when you feel the weight of sin and have no idea what to call it. Thinking that you have to keep up appearances for the good of the world, Christ kneels and finds the dirt of the real you to wipe it away.
In a little bit, fourteen of our young members will come to taste of this fountain. To receive this Jesus as a gift found in forgiveness as bread and wine. They come not as little children that we judge, but your brothers and sisters who have their own sins and shame that are in need of Jesus the washer-man. They will receive the bread and wine with these words of reprieve and freedom, and then so will you. There is no distinction. Jesus doesn’t care if you can drive, or vote, or drink. He doesn’t care if you are legally an adult. What he wishes for is you to come to him as he calls you tonight to be washed in the waves of his blood and to go from this place trusting that your sins are forgiven, and that you are now free to love instead of judge. Free to be agents of mercy for the sake of mercy rather than for the sake of reputation.
That is where this Jesus stands for you tonight. For you and for your children. A forgiveness given to you and to them. It doesn’t have to be accepted as though it is conditional on your submission, but these words of hope for you already exist as a fact. These words exist as a reality for you and your worst enemy, to give to you that love of Christ, that maybe, somehow, in some way, some day, it is given by you to another dirty beggar of a pilgrim whom you meet on this road to Jerusalem. Who takes their place at this feast to devour redemption amongst the rest of us sinners saved by blood shed for you. Thanks be to God. Amen