“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. x2
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”
Awkward! Pretty much sums it up:
Awkward...thinking about foot washing. Ever done it?
Awkward...reading this text at the beginning of Lent. Isn’t it the Maundy Thursday story?
Awkward...singing together without the words or a hymnal to look at!
Awkward! Considering anyone who betrays Jesus, like Judas, as “a devil”. I’ve certainly betrayed Jesus.
Awkward! Talking about and focusing so much on love.
OK, let’s “undress” this awkward-fest a bit.
(See what I did there?)
This is one of the gifts of the Narrative Lectionary: simply reading straight through the Gospel of John. We haven’t skipped chapters and chapters here to randomly landed on what’s usually Maundy Thursday’s text, during Holy Week. This is only Chapter 13 of 21! The entire second part of John’s Gospel is Jesus‘ passion, death and resurrection, and next 5 long chapters are at the table here, Jesus teaching and preaching to his disciples. (Not arrested until 18.) It’s like we’ll be in Maundy Thursday all the way through Lent...because it’s the Year of John! Awkward, I know, but bask in this, this year: we really get to experience the rhythm of John’s Gospel here. Let this year, this spring, really highlight Jesus’ work at the table, the night before his crucifixion. In John, this isn’t the Passover meal, like in the other Gospels: it’s the night before the Passover. In John, Jesus is the the Passover Lamb!
So this whole long sermon begins — typical of John’s Gospel — with action. An image, a symbol to work with: the teacher washing the students’ feet. Let it soak in…
How many of you have ever had your feet washed on Maundy Thursday here? How many have never? How many refuse?
Why? Because it’s...awkward! You think it’s awkward now, imagine back then. I encourage us to do it to each other, specifically because it’s awkward. And because Jesus told us to. And because it’s a symbol of something much, much greater. See, Peter wants to over do it...
It reminds me of when we feel like — at the Sharing of the Peace — we have to shake every single person’s hand in the church. Do you ever wonder about that? Who do you shake? Who do you not get to and feel bad about?
I remember my worship professor ranting even about this. He told us only to shake the hands of those immediately around you. Why? Because it’s about much more: “You don’t have to shake every person’s hand in the sanctuary. This is a symbol of something much, much greater.” What’s our bulletin, say? “...far more than a quick hello: It is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed. Jesus’ resurrection offers true peace.”
Jesus’ symbol of washing the disciples’ feet was about much more than even just being humble and serving our neighbors.
Like the sharing of the peace, “it is the embodiment of conflicts forgiven, wars ended, creation restored, even death destroyed. Jesus [washing our feet and commanding us to do likewise] offers true peace”... true community, true vocation.
(Church’s Vision Statement? “Washing feet like Jesus.”)
This is his final gesture with all his disciples there, including Judas! We can only assume he washed the feet of even the one who was to betray him. “A devil”, he calls him back in Chapter 6. This is love outpoured. The symbol is there, doesn’t need to wash all of Judas, or anyone else. Just the feet.
Friends, even though Jesus washes our feet, we still run out and betray him too, don’t we...if we’re honest? What are ways that you’ve betrayed your Christ? This season of Lent is long, 40-day examination of that? A journey into the wilderness [point to altar parament]. What are ways we’ve chosen not to love our neighbors, not to love our enemies, not to humble ourselves, not to trust God, not to take care of our own bodies, not to serve and protect God’s whole creation? What are ways we’ve walked out our Jesus and our community, like Judas is about to do? What has the devil put into our hearts? “Awkward!” Ah, Lent.
And yet, here’s the most awkward part of all:
God. Loves. Us. Anyway!
Shared this quote a few weeks ago, inviting you to keep it close by during your Lenten journey. It’s from mid-20th c. German-Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich (he was far from perfect, but, man, one of my absolute favorite thinkers):
“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged.
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when year after year the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joys and courage.
“Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’”
Jesus washing our feet is awkward, because love and acceptance and forgiveness and peace is pouring out.
All we can do, sisters and brothers in Christ, is sit back and receive it.
Even here. Even now. Even you. AMEN.