At the risk of appearing a little self-righteous I feel the need to say something.
I need to say that it makes me quite sad that many of the churches in the Christian world are not gathered together tonight to recognize the origin of two very significant events in the life of Christ. Unfortunately, they are not gathering together to commemorate the night that Our Lord had His last supper with his disciples. Perhaps, for many it is only about Easter. For me, I need to go through the range of emotions that are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in order to truly appreciate the joy of Easter. How can we get to Easter without all of the events that take us there?
This is the night before Jesus died. Jesus is together with His disciples, I am sure you recognize the words of institution, you hear them every time we have communion, “On the night He was handed over to suffering and death, Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when He had given thanks to you, He broke it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Don’t we all start feeling detached if we don’t regularly receive The Body and Blood of Christ?
Tonight, I want to focus on the second event, it is much less recognized and is often associated by many Christians with an “ick” factor. That is feet washing. I suspect, I would have trouble getting many volunteers to come forward to have their feet washed, right? Probably not much of a waiting line. The thought of being either the washer or the washed makes us feel pretty humble and uncomfortable doesn’t it? Let’s look a foot washing a little closer. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus would choose to wash His disciple’s feet as one of the things He would do in the last hours before He was arrested? Since we know that Jesus didn’t do anything without a very good reason, we have to assume that He saw it as significant, or, it’s meaning is something much deeper. Remember the words from the beginning of the Gospel tonight? “Now 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.”
It may seem to us that what Jesus did was bizarre and distasteful, however, in those days foot washing was something you did when somebody came to your house. The roads in Palestine were dry and dusty, except when it rained then they turned to mud (perhaps even worse). So even if your feet were clean when you began your journey, by the time you got to wherever you were going, your feet would be covered with dirt, mud, or whatever else might have been on the road.
The practice in those days was that when you entered a house you would be greeted with a kiss on the cheek, offered oil to rub on your face, and then a servant would kneel, take off your sandals, and wash your feet. This was the practice. Did you notice that I said servant? It certainly wasn’t the practice for the host or master of the house to wash the feet of his guests. Foot washing was the work of slaves. So, when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He broke the accepted rules. That is why they were shocked, not that somebody would wash their feet, but that Jesus was the one doing it. Jesus was violating all the customs of the day. This certainly isn’t the first time Jesus broke the rules of the day!
Foot washing was well known by everyone as an act and symbol of servanthood. By doing this, Jesus was making a point and to be sure that His disciples didn’t miss it, when He finished He asked them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus was giving His disciples a hands-on parable. He was giving them an acted-out object lesson. Jesus wasn’t just washing their feet. He was saying, “this is who I am, this is why I came to earth, this explains the cross. I came as a servant, to cleanse the dirty feet of mankind. Did they understand? The answer was ‘no’ they didn’t get it and unfortunately most of the time we don’t get it either. So as any good teacher would do. He explains it by giving them the truth, the command and the promise. In John 13:13, we hear the truth: “you call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so for that is what I am.” Then in 13:15 He gives them this command: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” And finally, in 13:17 is the promise: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
So, how are we to be servants as Jesus commanded? I think the first step is how we see ourselves. Do we see ourselves as above, or more important than others? Or, do we know how to be humble, how do we feel about doing things for those who cannot pay us back? That means those that might even be hard to love, or even like? It seems to me that our heart and attitude are what it is about perhaps more so than the doing part! The things we do out of obligation are probably not servantly acts. Even though it is a good thing for us to do them. How do we answer the question: are we preforming an act of service out of duty or is it out of love? Jesus’ acts were purely out of love.
For a while after my mom had passed away my dad wanted to live alone. To make that possible, he sold his house and we moved him to a cottage that I had purchased for the purpose. This way we could have him closer where we could check on him and get to him quickly if necessary. One evening my dad called me on my cell phone and said, “John, where are you? I need you to come right away, I have fallen.” I asked him if he was ok and he said that he was except, he couldn’t get up. I rushed over and when I arrived I found him on the floor, partway in the bathroom, his pants were down at his ankles and he had scraped the skin off his backside. He looked up at me and said, “Isn’t this something, just look at me, look how helpless I have become!” I said, “Dad it’s alright, let’s get you up and cleaned up.” I had to lift him off the floor, pull up his pants, and carry him into the living room.
So, is this love? Or is this obligation? It’s easy to do something for someone if you love them. Jesus washed His disciple’s feet, they may have been covered in sweat, dirt, or even poop. It was easy because He loved them. Jesus knew that He would be betrayed by one of His disciples, disowned by another and deserted by all of them. Still, He now showed them the full extent of His love. God knows us completely, as Jesus knew His disciples. He knows the sins we have committed and the ones we will yet commit. Still He love us. The word Maundy as in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin Mandatum. On this Holy night Jesus gives His disciples a new Mandatum, “a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus was a living example of God’s love. We are to be living examples of Jesus’ love. His was a humble, giving, sacrificial love. If we have that love, non-believers will be drawn to Christ. It will also keep believers strong and united in a world that is increasingly hostile to God!
This night was Jesus’ last night on Earth as a man, He used those final hours before His arrest to show us that we should love each other. He gave us the example and then He commanded it!
Let’s get up and wash some feet!