1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NRSV)
Last Thursday was the first time in twenty years I’d set foot in a high school auditorium. I was there for Kiski’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
One of the first things I noticed was how small the seats were. Uncomfortably small, especially given the fact that it was a sell-out crowd. Nobody smelled bad, and no one kicked the back of my seat. But I like my personal space—and I didn’t have much that evening.
For that reason, I’d be extremely uncomfortable with him washing my feet.
Bear in mind, it was customary for a slave to wash the feet of his/her master’s houseguests in those days.
But Jesus, their rabbi, their leader, and their Lord, performed the duty of a slave for his disciples. Not only that, Jesus had never been as close to his disciples—physically, spiritually, emotionally—until now. Jesus entered their intimate space.
Just speaking the word intimate immediately sets off alarm bells in my mind—as I think of how often people in positions of power trespass against the intimate space of others.
We all put up protective barriers around ourselves, and rightfully so. It is only within an extreme mutual trust that we allow these personal boundaries to be transcended. And there is no one worthier of that trust than Jesus Christ.
But Jesus says, “as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Since we have shoes, socks, and running water in our homes, there is absolutely no need to literally do this. Yet, the mutual foot-washing embodies valuable truths about what our life together in the Lord ought to be. And we have a long way to go to get there—because of the protective barriers we put up around ourselves—physically, socially, and spiritually.
Speaking from my own experience, I’ve always gone to church dressed in my Sunday best—and not just because it’s what you do; but also because I’ve always felt the need to present myself to my fellow Christians in the best possible way.
If I came to church looking like I’d just rolled out of bed, people would call me lazy and disrespectful. If I came to church crying, people would see me as weak. And I certainly wouldn’t want to come to church—and especially take communion—if people saw me sinning.
One of the biggest reasons why the church is struggling so much now is because of an unwritten rule that you don’t belong in Church unless you’re healthy, happy, prosperous, righteous, and full of faith. But that’s not a church. That’s a farce.
The disciples gathered around Jesus’ table were sinful and broken. Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. They’d been given a front-row seat to Jesus’ teachings and signs, but scatter away like cockroaches when the heat is on. Yet Jesus gives them his body and blood—and washes their feet.
When Jesus gathers you around his table—your sinfulness, brokenness, and vulnerability come with you. Jesus draws so close to you here that he isn’t merely washing your feet; he’s giving you his flesh and blood to eat and drink.
Jesus sets for us an example—meaning that we are slaves to each other. You experience Christ’s self-giving love most powerfully when it’s up close and personal. We don’t hide our sins away; we confess them together. We don’t judge each other or even tolerate each other; we forgive and bear with each other. In God’s family, you’re freed from the pressure of keeping up appearances. You can cry here. You can complain here. You can disagree here. You can even be an atheist here.
You guard your neighbor’s vulnerability. And you never betray their confidence.
Tonight, you are invited to participate in foot-washing—to experience firsthand the Gospel truth. If you are not ready or able to do that, you need not worry. But I challenge you to do something else, to break the barrier you put up to keep your neighbor—and the Gospel—at a comfortable distance.
When you share the peace, speak the person’s name and look them in the eye. If you don’t know their name, ask.
Change pews so you can be closer to the front—or closer to someone else you don’t know.
We have many new persons in this church. Have you invited them to your home for a meal?
If there’s someone you haven’t seen in a while, send them a letter or a card!
With all the names on the prayer list, call those people up and pray for them. Pray with them if they’re here at church.
Visit a homebound member.
If you’re tangled up in a sin you’ve committed, or a sin that’s been committed against you—confess the sin. Forgive. Receive grace. Let now be the time for reconciliation—or release.
Let Christ come closer into your busy day. If you’ve felt a call to participate more in the life of the church, make this Easter your time to act.
Tonight, Christ’s love gets up close and personal—and that’s the way Jesus wants it to be, because you’re loved that much.
This is love that saves. This is the love that makes us one.