SERMON FOR MAUNDY THURSDAY, YEAR A
I Corinthians 11:23-26[27-32]
“The Lord Jesus, after he had supped with his disciples, and had washed their feet, said to them, ‘Do you know what I, your Lord and Master, have done for you? I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done.’”
During Jesus’ time, no one seemed to understand exactly what he was doing or to what purpose. They were expecting him, after his arrival in Jerusalem to the “Hosannas!” & cheering of the crowd, to overthrow the hated Romans & establish a Jewish kingdom in its place, so they could finally lord it over their oppressors. But we now know that that was not his intent at all – not even close. The disciples & most of his other followers just didn’t get it, did they?
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, charges his listeners to “Examine yourselves.” Tonight, before we wash feet & take part in the Eucharist, we are called to do the same.
Who do we think Jesus is? And what does it mean to follow him?
In Jesus’ time, only the lowliest servants in a household washed the guests’ feet. For Jesus, their rabbi & Lord, to perform this service was an appalling, even scandalous act! Peter’s reaction would be typical – “You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus patiently explains it to him; & Peter, with his normal all-or-nothing approach says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands & my head!” Poor Peter just doesn’t understand what Jesus is trying to teach him here. The point is that we are to be servants to one other in love, following the kind of agape love that Jesus modeled for us.
And not only that, but Jesus washes the feet of all the disciples, even the feet of Judas, his betrayer – this kind of self-sacrificing love is not reserved for a special few, it is given without judgment, without consideration for the person’s worthiness or unworthiness, but to all . . . especially those who are most in need of forgiveness, of notice, of kindness.
Now how many of us practice that kind of love to others on a daily basis?
There’s the difficulty.
It’s one of the more difficult aspects of being a Christian – and it’s not an optional piece of the package. Examine yourself – that’s what Lent has been about, an examination of our conduct as Christians – searching out where we meet the requirements & where we fall short, where we “miss the mark” – another term for sin – identifying those things we want to try to correct in our behavior.
If we could live by Jesus’ example of washing others’ feet (at least metaphorically), what would that look like?
As I meditated on tonight’s readings & thought about the example Jesus set for us, I thought about all the nit-picking & back-biting, the mean-spirited behavior & anger, & the general lack of kindness being practiced by assorted people in varying circumstances & spilling over into our lives; & I began to wonder about what the world would look like if we really practiced Jesus’ kind of self-giving, if we replaced hubris & self-righteousness with humility & kindness, not just with our friends, but with those with whom we differ, on small issues & large alike.
What if . . . ?
What if, for example, members of Congress knelt to wash the feet of those with opposing views, Republicans with Democrats, liberals with Tea Partiers? Imagine John Bayner & Harry Reid, washing each other’s feet. Just imagine. How might that change the way they deal with one another on key issues facing this country?
And what if those who oppose immigration reform, washed the feet of those who had just made the hazardous crossing of the deserts of Mexico, paying a “coyote” to bring them across our southern border to enter this country illegally?
What if those on Wall Street humbled themselves to wash the feet of the unemployed or those dispossessed of their homes by huge interest payments on their mortgages that in turn pay their Wall Street bonuses? & visa versa, if an unemployed person washed the feet of a stockbroker?
What if Christians washed the feet of Muslims? Or Buddhists? Or Sikhs & Shiites knelt to each other? How would this change our perceptions, our way of interacting?
What if those who judge the homeless as “losers” who won’t even try to get a job, knelt to wash their feet? And how would it feel to have a homeless person wash yours?
There actually has been a group who ministers (I think it’s once a week) to those who gather under the Burnside Bridge. They serve food, they trim hair & beards, they offer some health services . . . & amazingly, they wash the feet of the homeless, really! – in an effort to follow Jesus’ example to the letter! And the people on the receiving end of this self-giving act are so grateful to be treated with such kindness & love, as if they too deserved to be cared for with a gentle touch, kind words & loving hands – actions that perhaps the rest of us take for granted.
What if the tables were turned, & we suddenly found ourselves in the minority, the person who was looked down on by others? What if you were forced to walk in someone else’s shoes?
Morgan Spurlock, has tested this over & over again on his program, “30 Days” where he finds people on both sides of a question (be it gun ownership, the homosexual lifestyle, illegal immigrants, organic food, or a host of other issues) – those who are willing to live with people from an opposing point-of-view & those who are willing to have them in their homes. For 30 days one person lives the lifestyle of a person or family with whom he or she is in total, sometimes vehement disagreement . . . & it changes them, the people on both sides! When we get to know each other as people, not just statistics, not just “the others,” or “those people”, we are given the opportunity to have understanding, to be kind, even generous in our dealings with them.
What if . . . ?
Not all of us can commit to a specific one-to-one ministry with others. And we can’t be all things to all people. But neither can we stand by & do nothing – that’s not what Christians do! What we can do, each of us, is to begin to change ourselves & the way we deal with others. We can begin by treating each other with kindness. We can begin by giving up our assumptions of superiority & the idea that somehow we alone have the inside track on what is fair or right or true. We can begin to honor the Christ in others, in all others.
So, find something that brings tears to your eyes – a person, an organization, a situation that tugs at your heart, where you can make a difference (& you can!).
Then, get down on your hands & knees & wash someone else’s feet . . . if not literally, then figuratively . . . & perform a self-sacrificing act of love . . . in Jesus’ name.
The Rev Katharine Holland
St. David of Wales
April 21, 2011