Sermon for Maundy Thursday
We are about to do something really awkward. Really, really awkward. We are about to bare our feet to one another – feet that haven’t seen sun for months and months and months…and months. Feet with callouses and blisters and bunions. Feet with in-grown toe-nails. Tired feet. Ticklish feet. Sore feet. And we are going to touch one another’s feet, pour water over them, pat them dry. All in a rather literal response to Jesus’ teaching moment with his disciples – a moment that seems to me to be about the need for mutual service and humility in a community of love rather than being about feet per se.
And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need my feet washed – I prepared for tonight by washing my own feet very thoroughly, trimming my toe nails, choosing socks that don’t leave lint behind. I am perfectly capable of attending to my own basic needs – I am not a child or infirm or otherwise in need of care. My nice clean feet, offered up this night for ritual purposes, are proof of that. I don’t need you to wash my feet.
This is different from Peter’s objection: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – Peter was not too proud to let Jesus wash his stinky, dusty, hardworking feet. Having your feet washed was, for Peter, not a strange, once a year event or evidence of dependence or intimacy. It was a gesture of hospitality and respect, offered by a householder and carried out by a lowly member of his household – a slave or a child or a woman.
Peter, unlike us, was concerned not with his pride but with Jesus’ pride – it was beneath Jesus’ dignity to wash Peter’s feet; more appropriate for Peter to wash Jesus. Which, of course, was precisely the assumption that Jesus was, once again, setting askew, teaching that strength is found in service rather than in being served.
And for once, we get it. We’re willing to wash feet – we’re willing to serve – we like serving. It makes us feel good. strong. Important. Proud. Washing feet is no longer the work of servants but of masters. We’re happy to be masters – even if it means handling someone else’s questionable feet.
Sigh. I guess maybe we don’t actually quite get it after all, even if we manage to arrive at the same wrong conclusion from the other side of the washbowl.
And so we tell the story again. But just telling the story isn’t quite enough – it doesn’t quite shake us up the way we need to be shaken because it can’t quite reach into our contemporary context and challenge us from up close. So need to do more than tell it- we need to re-live it, to re-member it.
But how do we remember something that happened 2000 years ago to other people in a different place?
I’m not talking about time travel. We are neither going back to 2000 years nor is Jesus stepping ahead. Our experience will not be Peter’s – our context is not his and our questions are not his. But Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ command, Jesus’ abundant, self-giving love – that we will share with Peter because that knows no bounds – of either space or time.
And so we step out of our time – Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 – and into God’s time – Maundy Thursday- yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And God in Christ meets us here, as eager to be with us as Jesus was to be with Peter and the disciples, as desiring of our comprehension and our compassion and our commitment, as passionately wanting to wash our feet.
Because this is the night. This is the night.
And so we remember…
And by our remembering, Christ is made present here and now as we sit in these chairs and bravely, embarrassedly, offer our too-proud feet to him to be washed so that we may truly learn what it is to be served, to be loved.
By our remembering, Christ is made present in us as we kneel at one another’s feet so that we may truly learn what it is to serve – not as one with authority and power but as one with nothing but love and compassion.
And so in this funny, awkward ritual, with no good contemporary real-world parallel, we are given a remarkable opportunity to simply practice being Christ –with no risks and no strings attached. If someone’s foot does not get well washed, it’s okay. It wasn’t dirty anyways. If you feel foolish – it’s okay. You’re not the only one. If you feel inadequate, it’s okay – none of us are.
This place, this carefully constructed, grace-filled moment, is a safe place to practice. To allow yourself to feel the love of Christ for you and for those around you filling you up and spilling out onto the feet and the hands and the hearts of the world. To remember that we belong to Christ.
And then, once we have washed one another’s feet, we will remember how, on this very night, the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus gives us bread and wine, feeding us with his body and his blood.
By our remembering, we are re-made into the Body of Christ.
Because, of course, it is not our remembering at all but God’s, remembering us as we most truly are and as all we are called to be.
Tonight – and for these next precious days – give yourself over to God’s remembering. Find yourself face to face with Jesus at the wash basin, at the table, in the Garden, at the cross. Know that you are loved and forgiven in each moment, at each place. Know that you are being drawn up into a love that is bigger than sin. Bigger than death. Bigger than time.
On this very night.