Maundy Thursday John 13:1-17, 31b-35 April 17, 2014
Foot washing has lost some of its surprise for us. It now is that thing we do once a year on this night — Maundy Thursday. Part of the reliving of the drama of those three days of Jesus’ death. That is not to say it is any less anxiety-producing for many of us, who are not accustomed to the intimacy of this act. But we know it is coming and what to expect for the most part, so we can prepare adequately. One year some of my women clergy friends and I even went out and got pedicures beforehand because we knew that Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, was going to be washing feet at the synod’s Chrism Mass that year. So much for the come-as-you-are vulnerability that this ritual is meant to convey.
! But recently Pastor Ben and I had a different experience of foot washing. In February we were invited to be part of a group discussion on spirituality. The topic for the evening was spiritual leaders, and the group of young adults were interested in hearing about what we do as pastors. As part of the night’s activities we suggested beginning with Ben and me washing the feet of people as they came in the door. One-by-one as they entered we invited them to sit and have their feet washed. I could tell that most of them had never experienced this before. Also many of them were caught off guard at first by such a personal request. But no one declined our invitation. Everyone of them took off their winter footwear and heavy socks and let Ben and me wash them while retelling the story of Jesus on the night of his betrayal. And as I looked into the eyes of each of them, I could see how moved they were by such an act of unusual caring. It was perhaps the most powerful foot washing I have ever done.
In just a few short hours after Jesus’ stoops down to wash them, the disciples will be confronted by terror as they have never known. To see their teacher and friend handed over by one of their own to be arrested and taken away. They would not see him again so close to them. From then on they would see him only at a distance, raised up high on a cross for all to see. Would they understand then how the two tie together? Do we?
! Our feet are some of our most shameful body parts. I know so many who think their feet are ugly — gnarled by bunions, callouses, planters warts and corns. They smell for having been hidden away beneath layers of socks and shoes all day, never allowed to feel the fresh air around them until perhaps we settle in for the night. Yet these two humble parts do some of the most arduous and important work. They carry us upright for hours upon hours. Some days they bear our weight without a break, shuttling us from here to there at work and at play. When the pinch of our work shoes reminds us finally that we need to stop and rest, it is our feet that relay to us that signal. Is it any wonder they often look the way they do. And yet we are not thankful for them, we are even more ashamed.
! We are our feet. Marred by the strains of life. Calloused to the needs of others by the experiences of hurt and betrayal we have had. Swollen under the weight of our responsibilities. Pinched by the demands of our jobs and our families. The dirt and stench of our sinfulness clings to us as we come around the table tonight. Much as those disciples around the Lord’s table, who must have sense something was about to happen. We take the bread and drink from the cup — a body and blood given for us. Even as we sit with the truth of our own failures and fears, there is a greater truth of the love of God that envelopes us. Jesus asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?” Bathed in the mystery of this night, when we ourselves are washed !
and fed by the betrayed body of our God, we ponder this question deeply. And the answer is we will never know all that God has done.
! There are two disciples named around the table, perhaps because they are us; we are them â€” Judas and Peter. One enters boldly into betrayal of the ones dearest to him, not only Jesus but the friends who share the meal with them. The other denies his need of the Lordâ€™s actions and later will deny that he even knows him as he runs far away from the cross. Yet both are welcomed to the table to taste the bread and wine of salvation. Both are beckoned to the basin of water, where they will be washed by their Lord. We too are invited to enter into the death of Christ that washes and feeds our broken souls. Surprised again that such undeserving people would find a love greater than all our failure and all of our sin.