April 13, 2006
The Gospel: John 13:1-11
Sermon: "Maundy Thursday"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
April 13, 2006
As I grew up I recognized that there were certain acts done by my parents when they were expecting guests. They made sure the guest bedroom was ready. They had clean towels and clean sheets ready for the guests' personal comfort. Foods that they knew the guests particularly liked were purchased. When the guests arrived, they met them outside. They helped them carry their bags into the house. They greeted them warmly with hugs and kisses. Finally, they would say something to the effect of, "My house is your house. Make yourself at home." These were the specific acts of hospitality my family offered to welcome guests.
Tonight, we read about an action that Jesus took with his disciples. At face value, it is a simple act of hospitality common to the day. Yet, as we can tell from the disciples' reaction, it was anything but common. There are several aspects of this action of foot washing that bear a much closer look.
Foot washing was very much a hospitable act of the day. A guest would arrive for dinner. Their feet would be dusty and dirty from the day's travel. The host would offer water to wash the feet of their guest as an act of welcoming. Now, of course, the host did not wash the feet, but a servant would wash the feet of the guest or the guest would wash their feet themselves. Either way, the act was one of hospitality and welcoming.
Jesus takes this simple act and creates something different in its meaning. The action is not just one of hospitality. The action is full of wonderful meaning and hope for the disciples. So, just for a minute let us walk through this event a little more deeply and see what Jesus was teaching them, teaching us.
The first thing we notice is that Jesus did not wash their feet when they first arrived. Instead he stopped eating and performed the task during the meal. Why would he move the task? He moved it to emphasize the meaning. If it had been done at the beginning it would have been part of the normal procedure of the day. At the middle of the meal draws attention to the action directly. .
The second thing we notice is the deliberate manner in which Jesus does the task. He gets up from the table and removes his outer robe. The verb for "removes" is important. This verb for the removal of his robe is the same verb in the Greek that Jesus will use to describe his laying down his own life. As John writes the Gospel he makes a direct link between the importance of this act and the death of Jesus.
After taking off the robe, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist. In this act, he deliberately takes the role of a servant. Jesus' taking this role is unbelievable to the disciples. In their worlds the rabbi would never take that role. It was inconceivable that Jesus would take the role of the servant to his own students. It would be like a bank president parking the cars of the employees or a general shining the boots of his officers. The disciples don't know what to think about this action by Jesus. They do not understand what he is about to do.
Then Jesus pours water into a bowl and begins to wash the disciplesí feet. He goes to them one at a time and washed their feet gently and carefully. When he reaches Peter, he meets resistance. Peter does not want Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus' response is typical. He says, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter still resists and Jesus responds yet again, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Then Simon begins to understand and asks to be washed fully. Jesus tells him that he does not need to be washed fully, but he does have to participate in this foot washing. He has to participate in it to have a share with Jesus.
What does Jesus mean by this share? Often times we interpret it to mean that we have to be servants like Jesus was a servant here. We have to wash one another's feet as Jesus washed the disciples. It is an act of humility and servitude to one another in the community. From the community of the faithful, the act of humility moves out to the wider community by being servants to the needy, the poor, the hungry, and the homeless. This interpretation is valid and it calls the community into apostolic action. For this reason this interpretation is very important. But it is does not represent the fullness of the meaning of this event. ;
Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry. He has been with the disciples for about three years. He has taught them many things about God, healing, and the Law. Now, he wants to teach them about the .fullness of God's love and relationship. This act is a teaching about love and relationship. The teacher takes up the basin and the towel. The teacher comes to each one of his disciples and lovingly takes the feet and carefully cleans them and tenderly dries them. It is a beautiful act of relationship. Jesus through his actions proclaims a oneness with his disciples. It is the same oneness that Jesus shares with God. It is the completeness of relationship. It is the fullness of love. Jesus proclaims to each one that they are intimately connected with him. Furthermore, he proclaims that he is willing to do anything for them. This act then becomes the precursor to the action of the cross. The foot washing points to the offering of Jesus' life for the disciples. He will lay down his life as he lay down the robe. He will wrap the towel around him as he will carry the beam of the cross. He will offer his life, his blood, just as he offered himself as he knelt on the floor to tenderly wash their feet. The disciples are not called to the foot washing simply to have their feet cleaned. They are called to the foot washing to be one with Jesus. They are called to this foot washing to learn about the love of God. They are called to share in the relationship that Jesus and God have with one another. They are called to share that loving and deep relationship with one another and out into the world. The foot washing becomes a symbol of hope to every single person because it points clearly to the offering of Christ for us all.
There is one other aspect of the foot washing that is important. Judas still betrayed Jesus. Judas did not want this relationship with God and Jesus and the others. The world around us does not understand the fullness of the love of God. It does not understand the kind of relationship to which we are called. Judas did not understand it then and some do not understand it today. We who are aware are not to be bitter, angry or resentful. We are not to be forceful or berating to others who might not understand. We are to be loving, caring and compassionate. We are to be as loving as Jesus was for us. We are called to love, even if it means suffering, those whom the world would reject. We are called to reach out in love even when the world might say no. We are called to take off our outer robe, wrap a towel around us, and minister to the needs of those around us. We do the task with one another and with those in the community to share with them the incredible relationship we have with God. We are called to share with others the hope we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. AMEN.