May the words I speak and message we all hear in our hearts be true to the message of Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Millions of Christians are gathered now, surrounding tables, some simple tables in house churches, trying to emulate the simplicity in which Jesus and his disciples ate, and some gilded altars in towering cathedrals, trying to symbolise a fraction of the holiness in which Jesus and his disciples gathered. Holy Thursday has always been an evening full of paradox.
John tells us that it was the just about the beginning of Passover, the festival in which Jesus and his friends celebrated, the bloody Egyptian night in which, the first born of the Hebrews were spared from death. And Jesus, John writes, “knew that his hour had come to depart from this world.” God’s own first born would not be spared.
Jesus had other certainties that night. John, at least, portrays a very prescient Jesus. A Jesus who knew he would die. Who knew that Judas would betray him, who knew, in John’s words, “That the Father given all things into his hands, and that he come from God, and was going to God.”
He had come from God, and he was Going to God.
It was with that knowledge on this evening of paradoxes that he had took off his outer robe poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet. The lowliest of tasks, for the lowliest of servants. He did it for his friends, the disciples who dropped their nets and followed him who had been at his side for three years, Jesus knelt and He washed their feet
The disciple Peter his closest ally, his best friend whose denials would ultimately abandon him: Jesus knelt and he washed his feet.
The disciple Judas whose betrayal would ultimately kill him: Jesus knelt qnd he washed his feet.
Earlier today as Holy Thursday evening passed over the Central European time zone, the pope knelt before the feet of a young, imprisoned Muslim woman and washed her feet. A man who was offered a palace in which to live, a man who has a private helicopter at his disposal, and a billion Christians who call him Holy Father knelt down in a simple and stunning example of truly grasping Jesus’ example.
And tonight, many of us here, will wash one another’s feet. It can be beautiful and it can be awkward.
That’s how love works a lot of time, filling us with warmth and discomfort at the same time. That’s okay. Jesus was always more concerned about making others feel loved than he was about making others feel comfortable.
See, nobody in that upper room that night was confused about what the social roles ought to have been.
Jesus was the master and they were disciples, followers by definition. Peter was not, by ordinary standards, impolite by declaring, “You will never wash my feet.” He was being completely polite by worldly standards. It’s just that Jesus didn’t care about that standard.
A hint to why came earlier this week, on Sunday, we waved palm branches remembering when Jesus processed into Jerusalem with the children, I made toy palm branches on which we glued the word, “HOSANNA,” a word the crowds shouted at Jesus as he passed by. Hosanna, in our Bible stories and in our hymns sounds to modern ears, if we’re familiar with the word at all like a generic, praise-y, churchy word.
It is indeed a word of worship, but not like Hallelujah which means glory to God Hosanna means, save us, save us now. We need Jesus, and simply admitting that is a form of praise Jesus said, “little children,” to address his disciples, and having set the example, he offered the simplest and hardest of commandments:
Love one another.
Note that Jesus set the example before he gave the commandment. As a parent, I find that to be a powerful lesson, we set examples before we tell others what to do. Love one another. When they are your family. When they are your friends. When they love you. And love one another. When they are strangers. When they hate you. When they betray or deny you. Love one another. And in calling his disciples little children and kneeling before them as their servant, we learn: We do not outgrow and we cannot outrank this simple command.
We are never too old or too important for Jesus perhaps one reason child commands us to be like little children. Certainly one reason I love being a children’s minister. Children are less prone to assume they don’t need help. They are less hesistant to cry “Hosanna! Help me!” and less hesistant to let another wash their feet for them and it is a command we cannot outrank nobody outranks Jesus. He came from God. He went to God.
Your role in any earthly organization at any point in time, including if not especially the church, has nothing to do with your merit as a child of God. Someone’s else role in any earthly organization at any point in time, including if not especially the church, has nothing to do with her or his merit as a child of God.
The realities of human organizational management are at best temporary conditions. If we mistake earthly role for a human’s worth, they are at worst downright evil.
When I was a teenager in church youth group, it was months into knowing one of my volunteer youth group leaders before I ever knew he was so “important.” I knew that on Saturday mornings, he woke up and picked up teenagers brought us to the homes of the elderly and impoverished of our congregation, and taught us side by side how to mow lawns and operate weedwhackers. Week after week one spring we did this.
I only later learned he was a millionaire, that we was one of the most important executives in Boston. Never knew that thousands of employees in a global corporation reported to him. He was not too important to wash feet, he was not too important to mow lawns with teenagers.
How will others know we follow Jesus?
It will not be our pledge amounts. It will not be our Sunday School attendance. It will not be cross necklaces or even clergy collars that we wear. It will not even be seeing us kneel for communion. Those are shadows and signs of our Christian commitment. Important, but incomplete. It is by love for one another.
“By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That in this holy space and time, that around this altar, we can sense a holy portion of the love Jesus has for us, and with the humility of children and disciples, accept it and offer it to others, I pray. Amen.