Sermon for Maundy Thursday - John 13
Maundate means commandment. Think mandate. Not some dudes hitting the club on Friday night, but a perspective of ability to accomplish something. Authority. When a politician, like a president, wins an election handily, along with his party, we say he/she has a mandate. An ability to command. Command being part of that.
So Maundy Thursday, not Mandy Thursday. A day where we hear: I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. So the expectation is a mic drop here. Love one another. Let’s go.
However, I know you, because I know me. We are the same. I’m not going to lie to you. Loving people is hard. Just ask my wife. Relationships are hard. They are messy. They are dirty. And Jesus steps in and makes it even harder. Love one another, and then the qualifier – as I have loved you. That is the how. That is the description, but how does Jesus love?
John 13:1 - Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Christ love is what brought him. He comes here for a particular purpose and knows he will go back. He has a reason, an end in mind, and the way of his love is one that makes it to the end. Nothing got in the way of him making it to his goal. Mission focused. Christ came with a mission. He had orders. We commemorate it tomorrow. The cross. His end. His hour coming. His love poured out there for you.
John 13:13 - You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are speaking rightly, since that is what I am. Christ asserts his authority, the Son of God and all. They are the disciples after all. But then what is the picture of this Lord’s love as Teacher and Lord? John 13: 4-5 - Jesus got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself. Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him. The Creator of the universe comes to earth to strip down to his undies, put on a towel and wash a creature’s feet. How does that make you feel?
This cross-oriented Jesus loves by washing feet, which for us is anachronistic. We cover our feet. We have either foot phobias or fetishes. Very rarely in between. But in the day of Jesus, this is normal everyday routine. Like you as kid being sent to wash your hands before supper, having your feet washed was essential to the communal dining experience. They didn’t have Air Jordans. They had Sandals. They didn’t have F-150 pickups, they had their feet. So walking in sandals or barefoot everywhere, your feet are going to be absolute savage. All black, blistered. Toe jam. They could smell pretty wrank after that cow pie you stepped in on your way from Jericho. Gross.
They didn’t have tables and chairs either. You sat on the floor, feet to the side, leaning on your left side using your right hand as the utensil. So we are sitting in a circle, you are sitting next to me and I haven’t had my feet washed. My cowpie feet all up in your business. How are you going to enjoy your goat taco with the waft of my stench in your nostrils?
Plus, footwashing would be the customary sense of hospitality. The cup of coffee, cold beer, the handshake. A welcome. Bare in mind, therefore, you need to hear this, it was not an extraordinary act. Washing feet was normal, expected. It was ordinary, but also subordinate. Jesus washing the feet of his boys. It goes along with every time he says to us, Last shall be first and the first shall be last, Matthew 19 and 20. He who is greatest among you shall be your slave, Matthew 23:11. Whoever humbles himself as a child will be greatest. This picture of becoming the least. The smallest. Not the greatest. Not the best.
The proper picture given to us is the mind of Christ we are told of Philippians 2:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
We want to actually think that this means do extravagant love, but it means ordinary love. Ordinary servanthood. Ordinary life at the feet of your brothers and sisters. Footwashing would not have been a good job. It would not have been the job for a Lord. Not even the butler in the tuxedo. We’re talking the slave with the most demerits got this job. What does that look like in your life?
His love of these disciples and of us also includes loving the ones who hate him, which is huge. My colleagues will make a huge deal of this love one another and we better get to it. But imagine, he is going down the line, washing their feet and he looks Judas in the eye, tears streaming down his face as he even washes his feet. Knowing that in a matter of hours Judas, one of his closest followers, will lead a band of sinners (i.e. – us) to Jesus that we might nail him to a cross. Jesus looks this man in the eye, and when you think Judas, picture you, and he washes his feet. Loving even the one we hate. How’s that going?
Then we have Peter - No not me, Lord. As though he is looking around the room and thinking – No Jesus, it’s Thomas’ turn. He’s the one on service group for this month. No one likes him anyways. He’s a doubter. Make him wash our feet. He needs to be humbled.
Jesus looks at Peter and says – If I don’t do this, you are finished. You’re in trouble. If you can’t accept me slaving away at washing your feet, how can you accept a crucified Jesus, washing away your sin?
This work of Christ comes to us in such a way that it actually comes to us. It invades us. It settles on us like a parasite eating away at our old sinner and making something new. If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me, Jesus says to Peter. Jesus does this work himself to men who will betray and abandon him. So in other words, you and me.
The fear for me is that you go away from here tonight clinging to yourselves. Clinging to your identity. Clinging to who you are and thinking you can meet this command of God on your own. NO! In the way of the cross, in the way of Christ, the crucified life. The resurrected life. You no longer live but Christ lives in you. Your identity becomes Jesus. Your identity becomes the cross. Your identity becomes a slavery to love because Christ and the Holy Spirit begin this work to push us in that way. Jesus takes off our outer garments. Our former life. We become someone else in Jesus, which is what scares us. We like us. That’s why we have no problem talking commandments and law because we can then judge people by how loving we think they are. We can’t judge people by how much God is working in them though.
This is why racism is hard to discuss, unless we get to the root cause – idolatry. We make ourselves god, making us the most important thing instead of Christ. The same way with sexism, classism, politics, denominationalism, church people versus “sinners”. Pick one. All of it is a practice in clinging to our former selves instead of being those who have been put to death, emptying ourselves and being made slaves. Slaves of Christ.
It’s why I get so mad that we throw around these complaints about Christians or the church being so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly-good. First, I call BS on the whole thing. I have been in too many churches to know that Christians do a lot. But secondly, you can’t truly be earthly-good without being heavenly-minded. Without having your eyes fixed on Christ it is hard to know what being Christ-like means.
It’s why church matters. Why Bible study matters. Why prayer groups, and daily spiritual discipline matters. Because left to ourselves, we eventually care only about ourselves. But this work of Christ becomes something more as portions of our days and weeks get overcome by him.
We are reminded this night with foot-washing and the instituting of the Lord’s table that, though we are sinful idolaters, Christ died for us. Washes us daily. Takes us warts and all kicking and screaming into the kingdom, not because we are so lovable or worth it, but because it is what he does. He washes things. He offers forgiveness and mercy when we have no time for those sorts of things.
This is Christ doing a new commandment to you, and calling you to a new commandment. A commandment to be loved as the sinner you are, and to be transformed by this Christ who washes sinners so that they may wash others. So that we can be washed clean and lead others to the bath. For the commandment is only part of what it is we have of Christ. What we have and need of him is Jesus alone. May he be in and among you tonight. Thanks be to God. Amen