Sermon for Maundy Thursday - John 13; 1 Corinthians 11
I wonder if you heard it. Did you? Only six words. Sometimes eight. We hear them all the time in church, but I do wonder if you heard them tonight, because they matter to the whole focus of this week. If not, let me read them to you again: On the night he was betrayed… One more time: On the night he was betrayed…
On that night, in fact this night, Christ was betrayed. An overlooked fact so often. Or one that we think only of Judas. That the night we see Jesus stoop down to wash the feet of his disciples, including Judas’ feet, he did it knowing Jesus was to be betrayed. To be handed over by one of his own, but even worse he was going to be left all alone as all, but two disciples, run for the hills. One of the two deny his very existence. Denies ever knowing him. The other at least stays within the courtyard to see what happens but didn’t do anything about it. At least that disciple watches and then tells the story later.
On the night he was betrayed, he washed feet to showcase what he was going to do and what it means for us. Not that we need to wash feet all the time but that we need to live as those who are his disciples in the world. In other words, live as those who betrayed him. As those who abandoned him. As those who denied his existence, and yet he washes you. He gives to you his body and his blood for the forgiveness of your sin. To live as forgiven betrayers. Because if you want to know what a disciple of Jesus looks like, it is not some wonderworker. Not some great activist or social agent. Not someone who goes about the world saving it from all evil. A disciple, before anything else, even before being a learner which is what the word means, is one who betrayed him an d yet is washed in his blood forever. It’s the only kind of disciple Jesus takes. A sinner, and not just in name only, but in substance. A sinner whose sin is not only the fact that he rarely will wash his neighbor’s feet, or feed the poor enough, or go to the ends of the world to bring transformation. A sinner whose real sin is his betrayal of the one who saves him. A sinner who cannot be wrangled by the 10 commandments because before we even deal with loving neighbor or loving God, we deal with the fact that we betray Jesus to death. We hand him over to be crucified.
Paul brings us the story of that night in order to remind us of our sinful betrayal. That we betray Christ by denying his Body. Betray him by denying that we are unified in the sinews and tissue of Jesus with both those we love, and those we hate in the church. United with those we have sinned against, and those who have sinned against us, in his Body. Denying that the truth of the church is that in his Body we are sinners gathered by the Savior that he might save us from this betrayal.
Think of it this way, Jesus was God incarnate. He came into the world and he knew, before it happened, that Judas would turn him over to the authorities so that he might die for the sins of the world and Jesus called Judas as an apostle anyways. He knew Peter would deny him so adamantly that Peter would call a curse down upon himself, and Jesus calls him as an apostle anyways. That all the other disciples would scatter to the four winds. Running for their lives. Knowing all of this, he looked them in the face as he stripped down to his underwear to wash their feet. He knew this as he handed them the bread, which he blessed and broke, telling them, “This is my body broken for you. Broken because of you. Broken by you.” Passing the cup of his blood shed for their forgiveness. Knowing that all which was to happen that night was to do the work of salvation for those who did not want him that way. Who do not, and did not, have need of him in that way. Who do not, and did not need, nor want, a bloodied Messiah hung on a cross along the side of a hill. They wanted a champion. A hero. A marauding general who would conquer the forces of Rome. Instead, they get a broken God who conquers the forces of sin, because sin is a greater enemy than any politician or empire could ever be.
On Maundy Thursday we are gifted with the founding of the Sacrament, and what can be termed a sacramental act. One we will feast on in a while. The other we will observe in a moment. There will be two stations tonight, as we reenact Christ’s washing of his disciples. One for the washing of hands and the other for the washing of feet. I will serve in the stead of Christ for you, to wash your feet if you desire. Marilyn will be there to assist in the washing of your hands if you so choose. Washed by Christ in both places. Touch the water. Let it touch you. See in it this Christ who cleanses you from all betrayal and sin. All these acts done that we might be reminded of those words he speaks, when Peter fights against this serving nature of Christ, Christ says to him, “I must.” A sacramental action of the foretaste of the rest of the week to come. A week where the washing of feet, the eating of bread and the drinking of wine were all done for those whom Christ knew needed him. Betrayers. Sinners. The dead and dying. And that, if you call yourself Christian (or not), includes you. That is you. You are that betrayer. You are that denier. You are that one who flees for the hills. And yet Christ still sits at table with you. Calls you back. Washes you so that you might have a part with him. Feeds you that you might remember that your sin is never going to be too much for him. For while we are still sinners, still in our sin, still deniers and betrayers, Christ dies for us. Dies to redeem us from the prison of our own egos. Our own sin. Our own self-reliance that we might come to his table regularly. So, we might be reminded that on the night he was betrayed, he forgave all sin. That of you. That of your neighbor. That of your lover. That of your enemy. On the night he was betrayed, no one was worthy to feast on him, yet he gave of his body and blood with that command, “Because you are a betrayer, a sinner, Take eat, take drink, for the forgiveness of all your sin.” Thanks be to God. Amen.