Friday, 6 April 2012

Maundy Thursday John 13

One of my favorite things about this night is the tension in the air. Our lives interweave with the Gospel and the whole drama of Holy Week. I love being caught up in the story. I love finding myself on the dusty roads- Waving Palm branches with the crowds- overhearing Jesus' teachings in the days before the crucifixion.

            Tonight especially I love the tension in the air. Peter says to Jesus, "You will never wash my feet." and Jesus answers him, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Jesus is saying Peter will no longer be a disciple ... unless he washes his feet.  Now, tonight the Youth Group was washing feet at the entrance to the church. Some of you snuck in and tried not to make eye contact with them. Some of you wore nylons so it gave you a reason not to have your feet washed. And then you heard Peter's words and then Jesus' words and then you felt that tension inside you.

"You will never wash my feet".

"Unless I wash you, you have no share with me".

            I'm not saying this to make anyone feel guilty. I'm not saying that you have rejected Jesus if you didn't let the Youth Group wash your feet. I'm sure some of you have medical reasons for not having your feet washed, for example. I'm someone who would sneak by if I could. But I love the tension in us, because it is Peter's tension. That tension draws us into the story.

            Our tension is slightly different than Peter's though. Our tension comes from us being embarrassed. Maybe we are embarrassed of how our feet look. maybe we feel like it is too intimate to have someone touch our feet- Our feet are sensitive.  For many of us it is too socially awkward. But the tension for Peter was a bit different.

            Foot washing was a very hospitable thing to do in the first century. There were no cars, so you walked a lot unless you were really well-off and had an animal you could ride. Most people walked everywhere along dusty roads. After being on your feet all day it meant a lot to have your feet washed. It was refreshing. It was a very hospitable action. It was also a bit of a demeaning action for the person doing the washing. It was the person on the lowest rung on the social ladder that did the foot washing.

            If you happened to be visiting someone who had servants, it wasn't just any servant who washed your feet. It was the lowest ranking servant who washed your feet. It was the lowest of the low who washed your feet. And that is where Peter's tension came from. It was as if Peter was accepting Jesus as having a lower social rank than him. There is no way that the one they just welcomed into Jerusalem as the true King and Messiah should be washing anyone's feet. That's Peter's tension.  

            And of course that is the point. Jesus, the true king, becomes a servant. He is the highest, but for our sake he becomes the lowest. He is the greatest king, but he took on the lowest position- dying like a criminal, shamefully nailed to a cross. Jesus' foot washing is how we understand his actions on the cross. His action on the cross is his washing us. And if we do not accept what he did on the cross as being for us  then we have no part with him. Like Peter not wanting to have his feet washed, if we don't accept that service from Jesus on the cross we are not his disciples. If we want to be the subjects of this particular King, we have to allow him to serve us.    

            Another surprise is that Jesus even washes Judas' feet knowing that he was going to betray him. Jesus knew that Judas, his friend, who he has spent three years with, was going to betray him. Have you ever had a good friend betray you? Have you ever felt taken advantage of by a friend? Ever felt used and abused by them?  ... Especially a good friend who you trusted. have you ever had a spouse commit adultery? I don't know that pain. I can hardly even imagine that pain. Maybe those of us who don't know that pain got a hint of it as teenagers when a boyfriend or girlfriend cheated on you. ... It feels awful. Now imagine being betrayed and that betrayal leads to your death. How would you treat that person? ...     

            We don't know why Judas did it, but we read that Jesus knew about it before it happened.  Jesus knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing death. And knowing this, Jesus kneels at Judas' feet. He pours water over the feet that will shortly walk into the darkness to betray him.  Not only did Jesus wash Judas' feet, but Judas also sat at a place of honour during dinner. He is seated so close to Jesus that Jesus can whisper to him and hand him bread. Judas is seated in a place of honour at this meal, even though Jesus knows.  

            There is no way to understand the love Jesus shows Judas in any kind of worldly way. When we are betrayed, everything in us wants to sneer, spit, scream and get revenge, but Jesus washes his feet. ... And of course, this is what Jesus does for us. When we are at our darkest, when we betray Jesus by acting as anything but his followers and representatives, even then, he washes our feet. He serves us. Even when we are at our darkest- he serves us. This is amazing love.


            Shockingly, disturbingly, and amazingly Jesus draws us into this love. Jesus has set this serving-love as an example for us to follow. If we call Jesus "Lord" and he serves by washing feet, so should we be washing each other's feet. If our master is willing to serve in such an undignified way then we too should be willing. If we think we are above such service, we think we are above him who did such service. Jesus is giving us our primary identity here as his Disciples.  Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." Jesus, in his act of washing feet, calls us into an amazing love- A love that is willing to put loving service above dignity and social-standing.

            That is why today is called "Maundy" Thursday. Mandatum is Latin for 'Commandment'. Think of the word 'Mandate'. In John 13:34 Jesus says, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus commands us to love each other- even if it means appearing undignified, or if it means crossing social lines. We are to love as he loved.  Our main identifiers as Jesus' disciples is our love for each other.  It is both beautiful and frightening, and it is impossible unless our love is really God loving through us.
            We are called to walk in the steps of the self-giving God. We are called to lovingly serve eachother despite social status. We are called to serve eachother even in ways that we might consider demeaning if it means loving service. We are called to walk the way of the one who gives his life for others- And not just for friends and family, but we are called to serve and even die for the Judas' in our lives. How amazing. How terrifying, and how beautiful.

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