May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our Lord and Redeemer.
One night over 2000 years ago, during the Jewish season of Passover, a man named Jesus gathered his friends together to share with them a meal one last time – and to share one last time a message which was so unique, so revolutionary, so dangerous that the entire political and cultural authority of the nation of Israel feared that message, and its carpenter messenger, and the next day would unite to kill him – and they hoped to kill his message.
In fact, in the past 2000 year, that message has been spread over most of the earth, and has affected more change than armies or kings or presidents, or the rich or learned or powerful. That message is still with us today and it has turned the world upside down; it just won’t give up and die. It’s a message that calls us to embrace a radical love which humbles itself before its enemies, reaches out to comfort the untouchables and forgives those who seek to destroy it, and to love one another as brothers and sisters.
Aware of what awaited him, Jesus wrapped a slave’s towel around his waist, dropped to his knees and began performing one of the most menial tasks of the culture at that time: washing the dirty feet of his disciples. To wash the feet was the work of a slave, not that of a teacher, a Master, the Anointed Son of God.
Jesus knew that he was dining with Judas, who would betray him, and Peter, who would deny him. Yet he knelt before them and gently washed their feet, modeling for them and for us a radical love that goes far beyond worthiness, a love that is faithful in spite of our weakness and betrayal. In this kind of love there is not only a willingness, but a plea for reconciliation – for brokenness in relationships to be made whole again. God willingly humbles Himself in order to reach out and find the hearts of those who have fallen away and become lost.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly taught that the
first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16)
But he had good reason to doubt that his followers could really understand his message. So once again, Jesus turned worldly notions of success, authority and power upside down, revealing them for what they were – a false standard that pulls God’s children further and further away from God and His Kingdom.
Peter’s reaction to Jesus kneeling before him to wash his feet is an indication of just how shocking it was. For Jesus to suddenly take on such a humble role went against everything in Peter and turned his world upside down. Such behavior completely undermined the rules of authority, then as now, which keeps people in their ‘proper’ place and protects society from anarchy. People on the top have always fought to stay there and to keep those beneath them from getting any closer. That’s how it’s always been.
Peter left everything to follow Jesus – the Messiah – the Son of God. If Jesus is now stooping to foot washing… then Peter’s entire understanding of power – and of the Lord of lords – is threatened – exactly what Jesus intended.
But, in kneeling an serving, Jesus did not demand that Peter and the others look up to him in obedience and honor; rather he compelled each disciple to look down. He put himself in the position of the powerless and weak and all those that society deemed expendable. In so doing, Jesus calls them to seek God there on the earth, among the needy and rejected and disenfranchised – and to be in service to ‘them’. And, in all He taught us, that is where Jesus still calls us to be – down on our knees, in service to others – regardless of who ‘they’ are.
Tonight and whenever we take the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist – perhaps we can listen for the gentle voice of Jesus inside us, calling us to join him on this earth in humble service to all God’s children.
We believe that’s what Jesus did at the Last Supper. He knew he was leaving the people he loved on earth, and he wanted to leave them the gift of Himself.
Tonight we remember this Last Supper, and Jesus with His friends breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup -these are things to remember him by. And the washing of feet –a commitment to love and serve.
Jesus, God Incarnate, knelt like a slave to wash his friends’ feet. He made them clean – even his friend Judas. This is real, hands-on loving. He washes away the sin; he forgives all. John tells us in Chapter 13:1:
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end.
But Jesus is handing on something even more important as well. He asks us to share what we have received: the gift of loving and forgiving. In Luke 6:31, Jesus said,
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
When Jesus had finished washing the disciples’ feet, He said to them,
Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).
I believe we, too, can turn our world upside down by following Jesus’ example. Because He was a servant of all mankind to show us the way, to give us hope, we must serve too.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, on this night that we remember you through the mystery of the Eucharist, let us also be every mindful that it is not enough to only remember you through communal acts. You have charged us to do unto others and be a servant to those around us, particularly those who society has rejected. May we remember this command and live our lives in glory to you.
Delivered At Saint John’s Worthington, Worthington, OH 28 March 2013