May the yearnings of all our hearts be the answers to your call Oh God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, AMEN
When I started writing this sermon last week, knowing I had two to write, I gained a deep awareness and appreciation for Matthew’s skill in being able to write sermons Sunday after Sunday, keeping them fresh and meaningful. I noticed that this is the fifth Maundy Thursday I’ve preached on since I started my journey. A humbling realization for me that I have many many years of sermon writing before me, often on the same scripture reading, and that the periodic one’s I’ve given over the past few years have only the tip of the iceberg. Its a reminder to me also of the joy that we can find when reading scripture, that scripture invites us, over and over to re-read the stories, re-interpret them. That in re-reading them we approach them differently, at it from a variety of angles, to discover new meaning and new points of view.
At this point in the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, we’re at the moment which we know now as the last supper, the basis of our Eucharistic liturgies. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, this event and their familiar words of institution, “take eat and take drink” are told in the same basic format. The preparations for the passover meal, finding the room, moments at the dinner. Mark and Matthew describe this event in about a half page in their gospels. Luke’s also follows the same format, but also mentions the dispute among the apostles on who will be seen as greater, extending the narrative to maybe about a page.
And then there’s John’s gospel, the gospel for tonight. In John, this moment in Jesus’ ministry is captured in six plus pages and is significantly different that the other gospels. In these six pages, there’s almost NO mention of the meal, nor those familiar words of institution. Instead, in John the focus is Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, and his Maundy, his commandment that: “you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John is also the only gospel where Jesus hands Judas bread, an act of extreme hospitality and servanthood in the face of betrayal, such amazing love in the face of darkness. I’ve often wondered, why is this gospel is so dramatically different.
Some scholars suggest that the writer of this gospel is presenting us with a higher Christology than the other three gospels, offering us a deeper look at the nature and being of Christ as divine, and his relationship with God. It’s only in John’s gospel for example that we hear Jesus talking about himself in a divine role, often telling us that he shares this insight with the disciples only. John is concerned with the details of Jesus’ life and ministry, his acts and teachings, in order to help us gain a clearer understanding of who he is in his person, and his role in our salvation. In my evolving theology, I believe the gospel of John offers us something called a realized eschatology, one of those theological terms so popular in seminary. A theology that focuses not on the future end of times, but instead on the ministry of Jesus and it’s lasting impact in our lives today. It changes our view as biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan wrote, from “one waiting for God to act in divine intervention” towards one of “divine imitation, and God waiting for us to act.” Viewed this way, the life and ministry of Jesus, as John offers us in our gospel, is a radical example of hospitality and love to follow. One that challenges us right up front asking us how far we would be willing to go to show someone how much we love them, the intimate and touching act of washing the feet of another. To be the servant to another in love.
In the time of Jesus, foot washing was typically done by the servants of a household not the host. And to wash someone’s feet was a generous act of hospitality and care, and also an act of servitude and humility. It’s no wonder Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” Yet there he knelt, with his wash basin and his towel. He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, dirty and calloused. When he was done, Jesus told them why. “I’m setting an example for you,” he said. “You also should do what I have done to you.” In that moment, as with so many examples in the scriptures, I wonder if the disciples finally got it? He’s preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them when they’ll be the ones continuing his ministry. They’ll be the ones standing in front of the crowds of people, people of all shapes and sizes, broken and longing to be whole people. Without Jesus, they undoubtedly had those “What are we going to do?” moments. But then they’ll remember Jesus, with his towel and wash basin kneeling in front of them this night. They’ll remember his example of how he wishes them to treat other people. In his example he’s saying to them, “See, It’s simple. I’m sending you out into the world, into those crowds.Your job… Just love them!” Love is mentioned over 31 times in this and the following chapters of John.
A few weeks ago, we heard from Ruth Berson regarding RIM, the Refugee, Immigration Ministry and its work in helping refugees and asylum seekers in the Boston area be settled, find jobs, and perhaps most importantly, to come to a restored humanity. Perhaps RIM and the variety of opportunities for service towards others is an example of our way towards becoming foot washers, a place we at Emmanuel can partner with others to help make a positive difference in people’s lives. As she spoke I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scripture passages, one found in Micah 6:8 – “To do justice and to live kindness, and to walk humbly before God.” We understand this already when we serve at the bread of life and our other ministries.
To do justice and to live kindness means we simply need to look around, the opportunities are there for us do to just that. We are already furnished with the love of Christ and made to serve. It’s there in those opportunities where we will see love, and where we will find love. Love for all to learn, to share and to give and to do, love far greater than words. Living into what the apostle John wrote, “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” In the rush of todays world, we tend to want to fast forward everything, whether it’s reading emails, grocery shopping, or driving from one place to another. We shouldn’t rush thru holy week. As we leave this Lenten period of inward discernment and preparation, as we reflect on the concept of servanthood in our lives, and as we prepare ourselves for the days to come, we should take the time we need and look forward to the promise that Easter brings. What better time is there then, in that less hurried state, in these next few days, for us ask ourselves, “Are there feet for us to wash? Is there a towel around, a basin? Are there people to serve? A love that is real is love expressed in activity, not just words. Reaching out to act as a people of divine imitation, God watching us act, in his kingdom here on earth. AMEN