Thursday April 14, 2022
Words of Welcome:
Traditionally on the Thursday before Easter, we mark Maundy Thursday with the sharing of Communion as we remember the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. But this year, as we explore the Gospel According to John, there is no mention of broken bread or wine poured out. Instead, we hear of a simple act of service, the washing of feet. So today we will not be sharing communion but rather we will ask ourselves what it truly means to follow a Servant Lord.
Let us Pray:
Let us begin our worship with prayer;
We are Jesus’ disciples, following him even as he moves toward the cross. We are Jesus’ disciples, following him even as he wraps a towel around his waist. Even as he kneels to wash the dirt from the feet of his friends. We are Jesus’ disciples,
longing to follow his example, longing to be faithful even as the night grows dark, even as betrayal and denial loom, even as the powers that oppose the way of Christ press in all around us. We are Jesus’ disciples, struggling to love others as Jesus loves us. We are Jesus’ disciples, gathered here to worship. Be with us we pray, as we struggle to love, serve and follow. Amen.
Hymn: Go to Dark Gethsemane #133
Tonight, we are actually going to hear two scriptures from the Gospel According to John. The first is the familiar story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The second is another act of service that Jesus performs, this time from the cross.
John 13:1-15 Good News Translation
It was now the day before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end.
Jesus and his disciples were at supper. The Devil had already put into the heart of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, the thought of betraying Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him complete power; he knew that he had come from God and was going to God. So he rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Are you going to wash my feet, Lord?”
Jesus answered him, “You do not understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later.”
Peter declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!”
“If I do not wash your feet,” Jesus answered, “you will no longer be my disciple.”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!”
Jesus said, “Those who have bathed are completely clean and do not have to wash themselves, except for their feet. All of you are clean—all except one.” (Jesus already knew who was going to betray him; that is why he said this.)
After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. “Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you.
Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, “He is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “She is your mother.” From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.
I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of doing exactly what Jesus did, the idea of following his example perfectly, seems a bit intimidating. Does it mean that we should take a basin of water and towels and head out into the streets and begin to insist on washing the feet of everyone we meet? Does it mean that we must wash the feet of whoever walks into our church on Sunday morning, whether they want us to or not? How well do you think either of these options would be received?
Many people today have real issues with having their feet touched. For some it may be just because their feet are ticklish and they are afraid of how they might react. For others it may be due to medical or esthetic reasons. Fungal infection, bunions, callouses, or arthritis, can make a person feel that their feet are deformed or ugly and they might feel self-conscience about anyone even seeing their feet, let alone touching them. And even if your feet appear to be in perfect condition, in today’s world, touching another person’s feet, is considered a very intimate act and few people would be comfortable allowing a total stranger wash their feet.
But this is not the same reality that we are talking about when we read the account of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet in the Gospel According to John. The act of washing a person’s feet when they entered the house was a simple, common act of hospitality. Today, it might be compared to offering someone a cup of coffee or tea when they come to visit.
In Jesus’ time, this would be the job of a servant. If there are no servants, the host would be the one to perform these simple acts of hospitality, whether that was making coffee or washing feet. But regardless of what the act of hospitality was, it would never be left to the guest of honour. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he placed himself in the role, perhaps of a servant, or perhaps of a welcoming host.
But this story also has other significance. When Peter asks to have his head and hands washed as well, Jesus replies that only what is covered with dirt needs to be washed.
There is no judgement in this statement. What is dirty simply needs to be cleaned. I wonder how many of us can honestly say that, if we were faced with the prospect of washing the feet of someone who has days or perhaps even weeks of dirt and grim built up on their feet, or whose feet carry the distinct odor of neglect, how many of us could say that we would not feel even the slightest hint of judgement towards that person?
Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet is more than simply an act of service or an act of hospitality. It is also an act of total acceptance. Jesus accepted each his disciples just as they were, including Judas. And within that acceptance, is a expression of deep love.
I believe that this is the example that Jesus calls us to follow. It is not simply about the actions that are taken. It is also about the reason behind those actions. Service, hospitality, acceptance and love. They are all connected.
Simply doing the things that we think Jesus would do in our place or basing our actions on the example we have of his actions, is not enough. It is much more than that. It is intimate, personal and loving.
This idea of an intimate, personal, loving act of service is again demonstrated for us, perhaps even more poignantly when John tells us that, as he hung dying on the cross, Jesus most pressing concern, his direct focus, was not on those who had condemned him, those who had carried out his execution, the two men who were being crucified with him or those who were standing around and watching. His focus was on his mother.
For many, this may seem like a strange story for John to include. After all isn’t Jesus all about others, the strangers, the outcasts, the marginalized and those that society seems to have forgotten? Doesn’t he set aside all of his personal needs and desires in order to focus on those who need him most?
It is true that Jesus cared deeply about all these people. But that does not mean that he stopped caring about those closest to him. Sometimes we seem to think that the only way we can follow Jesus’ example is to dedicate ourselves exclusively to the care for those we consider to be less fortunate than we are.
We sometimes seem to act as if, unless we give up everything that is most important to us and set aside all of our own needs and desires, and by extension the needs and desires of our family, then we are not following Jesus.
Yet, according to John, Jesus’ primary focus, his deepest concern as he hung dying on a cross, was his mother. John doesn’t mention any story about Jesus offering forgiveness to those who executed him. He doesn’t tell us about the words of forgiveness that Jesus offers the repentant thief who was crucified with him. Instead, John tells us that Jesus took care of his mother.
For me, this is a wonder, intimate moment. It’s not about the whole world. It’s not about all the people gathered there. It’s about one individual, one specific person. His mother. It’s about a love that is not generalize. This is a specific relationship that is intimate and meaningful. And this is something that I think we sometimes miss in the passion narrative.
We like to focus on Jesus’ death as being for all humankind. We like to see it as a general promise of forgiveness, a way of reassuring us that, no matter how screwed up our world may be and no matter how many things are wrong in our society or in our own personal live, there is still hope. It is true that we do see Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as a promise of hope and forgiveness of each one of us on a personal level, but we do not always seem to see this as an intimate, personal, one on one, act of love.
I like to think that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet it was not simply a matter of pouring water on them and then wiping away the dirt. I like to think that each one of them would have felt his touch differently, that he would know where their arches ached from having walked all day in flat sandals, where their feet were blister from straps that were a bit too tight, where their skin was broken from that tiny stone or that grain of sand that had become lodged between their toes.
I like to think that this was an act so personal and intimate, that it expressed Jesus’ unique and individual love for each one of them.
Just like his care for his mother, just like his care for each of his disciples, I also believe that Christ’s care and concern for each one of us is just as intimate. Perhaps this is what John demonstrates in these two stories. It’s not just that all are included. It’s that each one is included in a special way that is unique to them.
Christ’s passion was and is for the whole world, but it is also an intimate, personal act of acceptance and love for each one of us. This is the wonder of the story that we remember this evening and that we will continue to honour tomorrow as we face Good Friday together. Amen
Hymn: At the Cross Her Vigil Keeping #139
Beloved God, as those who strive to follow Jesus in our living and to trust your power in our dying, we gather to reflect upon the life that ended on a cross.
We recognize in ourselves the strengths and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples:
although they loved him, they disappointed and failed him. And yet, gathering with these imperfect friends one last time, Jesus washed their feet, and then challenged them to do the same. Despite this act of love, when the way ahead became too rough and too dangerous, they all deserted him. But he never deserted them. Even from the cross he continued to demonstrate his love and his concern. We are humbled, honored and inspired by the deep love Christ extended to those he loved, and we take seriously the calling to be Christ’s body in our world today.
Forgive us God, when we disappoint and fail you. Forgive us when we refuse to risk the danger of following where you lead. Don’t give up on us. Continue to guide us back to a place of trust and faithful living. As we face the days ahead and accept the pain and sorrow of his death, stay close to us, guiding, comforting and challenging us to see beyond this present moment. Give us the vision see the world as you see it, with love and compassion for each creature and for all of your creation. Help us to see the possibility of resurrection even within the reality of death. We ask this all in the name of the one we willingly follow all the way to the cross, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Hymn: We are going to close by singing the song that is printed on the back of your order of service. Christ, Grant Me Grace to Let You Wash My Feet
Although the words are new, the turn is familiar. (Tune Spirit of God #378)
Christ, Grant Me Grace to Let You Wash My Feet
Christ, grant me grace to let you wash my feet,
and washed, to let them stand or walk or run;
as over mountain, desert, city street,
they bring good news – unlikely victory won.
Christ, grant me grace to wash another’s feet,
and count it cause of neither shame nor boast
nor think some merit makes my work complete
since those forgiven most will love the most.
Christ, grant me grace to follow and believe
in you who loved me to the bitter end;
learn to receive you, as I shall receive
those you have sent, and those you will yet send.
Christ, grant me grace to live, obey and love,
sent to your world, commanded by your word:
content if you direct my every move,
your name be known, your kingly voice be heard.
© Christopher Idle/admin Jubilate Hymns (admin. Hope Publishing in North America). Use is covered by your CCLI license.
Closing Prayer: Let us close our worship as we began, with prayer.