Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Today is Maundy Thursday –does anyone remember what the word, “Maundy” means? It is the Latin word for “command.” Of course, we hear Jesus giving us a new commandment today to love one another, but I also hear Jesus giving us another, more difficult commandment. Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Some Christians — most notably the Mennonites — have used this passage in John to go so far as to argue that foot washing is actually a sacrament, along with Holy Communion and Baptism. As we discussed the sacraments in worship last Wednesday night, a sacrament is a visible sign attached to a command from Jesus – “do this.” You have to admit, foot-washing does seem to fit – water, feet, Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet just as Jesus does for the disciples.
But I don’t know about you, I did not grow up with a foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday. Like good Lutherans, it was well and good just to talk about foot-washing, to hear this passage from John every year, to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples, but to actually do it – well, it is just not proper to take your shoes and socks off in church! I know that people have very mixed emotions about other people seeing and touching their feet. I think the majority of us would respond exactly like Peter does, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus takes us WAY out of our comfort zones to consider what it might mean to let him not just look at but touch and wash our dirty feet.
Lutherans have just in the last few decades begun to bring the practice of footwashing back in our worship, to remember this act of service Jesus did for the disciples just a few days before his death on the cross. The disciples and Jesus walked A LOT in sandals. Their feet got dirty, so they washed them frequently. Footwashing was a common sign of household hospitality, and before the Passover meal, it was a cleansing ritual for Jews. It was a little less shocking of a practice than it is today. We would find it very strange today if before eating supper, we offered to wash our guests’ feet, even if it was at a summer picnic! So what does foot washing have to do with us and with our faith?
As we will experience in a few minutes, foot-washing is a holy moment. It is a vulnerable place to put ourselves in- for both the foot washer and the one being washed. For as much as we like to put our “best foot forward” in our society today (and yes, pun is intended!), when we come forward tonight, we reveal to one another that the feet we have to offer aren’t necessarily the best parts of ourselves! For the most part, this early in April, our feet have been well-covered and hidden from the public all winter. These feet may not have seen the light of day outside of our own home for quite some time! I have to admit I did put a fresh coat of polish on my toes and gave them a prewash before tonight. And yet, at Jesus’ leading, we offer our feet to one another. We share the dirt, the sweat, the smell, the worn calluses, corns, bunions, warts, chipped toenail polish and yes, perhaps even some toe hairs. We take them out of the comfort of our shoes and socks to be washed by someone else. We do something extra-ordinary for one another, because it is our testimony of what Christ has already done for us.
Perhaps this is the point of Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet. It’s like Jesus is saying, “here’s one pretty intense way to love someone else – wash their feet.” What a way to communicate what love looks like — how Jesus loves us! In the vulnerability of our exposed, naked feet, we understand something deeper about what it means to truly love one another. To love one another is to see someone’s warts, worn & tired places, their times of darkness, and to love them even there. To wash these sometimes unsightly feet is to remember the One who first washed us in the waters of baptism, to remember the One who claimed and loved us completely, who loved even the messy, dirty, calloused parts of ourselves that we like to keep fully clothed and protected from public view if possible. To allow these parts of us to be washed is to trust in the love of Christ, a love that understands the journey our feet been on and why we have those blisters and calluses. And to wash each other’s feet is also to understand more fully the journey that Christ’s feet have made for us – a journey of love that took him from Bethlehem to Nazareth, around the sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, and finally, to the cross.
My good friends washed each others’ feet at their wedding. Many of their guests hadn’t been to church in a long time or didn’t claim any religious affiliation. I don’t know exactly what everyone there was thinking during that moment, of course, but I still wonder if it caused at least a few people to think that maybe this is something of what marriage is about. And perhaps some started to think that maybe this is something of what Christianity is about – living a life of service that causes us to humble ourselves enough to find it an honor to wash another person’s feet. We humble ourselves enough to find it an honor to allow another person to wash our feet, because Christ first washed and loved us. For Jesus in today’s gospel shows that regardless of our titles and positions in life, all of us are capable of serving one another in love.
Whoever we are – Teacher, Student, Nurse, Retiree, Father, Grandma, Daughter, Son- the one name we share, “Christian,” allows us to love and offer hospitality toward one another. As Christians, we serve not by just seeing the feet (that is, seeing those who are in need and acknowledging they are there) but we like Jesus dare to touch them, to care for them, and to send those same feet on their way of service. AND, we look beyond the feet to see the face of Christ in the face of our neighbor. We ask, “What is my neighbor’s need? How can I let them know they are loved and claimed by Christ?” We try to let people know that as Christians, we’re the last people to walk around judging others, because just by looking at our own feet, we know we have parts about ourselves and stories from our lives that are less than perfect. We try to be open to loving people as they are, and even if they’re not squeaky-clean model Christians.
Tonight, Jesus tells us that “all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Faith is as simple as that: love God and love one another. Yet, just as we wash our own feet almost every day in the shower, it is not as simple or easy to put our feet out there to be washed or to wash someone else’s feet. It is not always easy to love one another. When we dare to be servants for one another, when we take the risk of loving one another, though, people notice. So as some of you take a risk to come forward today to have your feet washed, may Christ also send those same feet out to proclaim the love and forgiveness you have seen and experienced, so that the world may know the love of Christ. Amen.