Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
March 20, 2008 (Maundy Thursday)
It’s the end. Jesus knows it’s the end. Judas has gone to do what he needs to do, and Jesus knows that this is it.
In the Gospel of John, he goes on for another three chapters with final messages for the disciples before they actually leave for the garden, but he starts with what he calls a “new commandment” for them. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Loving each other—this is the mark of our discipleship, of our being Christ’s people. Notice that he didn’t say that we must believe in him but that we must love each other.
Love one another just as I loved you.
Jesus demonstrated his love in a very physical way earlier that same evening: He washed the disciples’ feet. Remember that? “Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” Foot washing isn’t something we generally do for our guests today, but it definitely was at that time—though servants were the ones who generally did the job.
I’d like you to think about washing someone’s feet. Imagine that the lights are dim, and there’s soft music playing in the background, and people have removed their socks and shoes and carefully placed them off to the side. They’re sitting in chairs, and you’re kneeling in front of them with some nice warm water and a fluffy towel. Some people’s feet will be cold and some will be kind of sweaty … and a few may even smell a bit, having been stuffed in sneakers a bit too long. And you may think, “What a lovely thing this is to do for someone.”
But that foot washing probably isn’t much like the foot washing that happened in first-century
These were not lovely feet, folks. Washing these feet was a difficult and disgusting chore—and one that gave immeasurable pleasure to the person whose feet were cleansed. No wonder Peter jumped up and said, “You will never wash my feet”!
But Jesus did. He loved those disciples. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
We’re called to wash each other’s feet—to do things for them that are not easy, not lovely, not comfortable.
And we’re also called to let them wash our feet, to do for us at times. Because there are times when we’re like Peter, protesting that someone else shouldn’t be doing that for us. I know a woman named Mary, who is a pillar in her community and an always eager volunteer in her church. But if something needs to be done, people know they can call on Mary. A lot of you remind me of her, actually. She’s also proudly self-sufficient, and I’ve got to say that sometimes her refusal to rely on anyone else drives me a little bit crazy. Like when she put off having her second knee operation for far too many months “because everyone was so helpful last time.” She didn’t want to be in the position of needing people to help. She didn’t want them to help her up the stairs or bring her meals. She didn’t want them to wash her feet.
She wanted to be the one in control, the one who helped others.
But allowing other people to help—allowing them to give us their gifts—is also an act of love. We’re called on, like Peter, to be ministered to as well as to minister. To love one another just as Jesus has loved us means that sometimes we wash others’ feet, and sometimes they wash ours.
And washing feet, of course, can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it’s helping others, sometimes it’s giving them wise counsel, sometimes it’s acknowledging that they are right and we are wrong. Sometimes it’s saying we’re sorry. Sometimes it’s listening, and sometimes it’s speaking up. Sometimes it’s picking up the tab at lunch, and sometimes it’s allowing someone else to pay. Sometimes it’s being the strong one, and sometimes it’s admitting that we are weak.
And sometimes it’s coming to the table and saying, We need to be fed. We’re broken and weak, and we need the love of each other—the body of Christ, the broken body of Christ—in order to be whole.
Friends, let us prepare to come to the table that we might be fed. And in being fed, may we know we are loved. And may we love others, just as Jesus loves us.