Sermon–Maundy Thursday April 13, 2017


Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017

William Bradbury

Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Occasionally it is helpful for a person who feels stuck in a rut, to imagine she has all the money, time, health, and family support she needs and then to ponder deeply what exactly she wants to do with her life.  We are told the Father has given all things to Jesus—Jesus comes from God and he is going to God, so he can do whatever he desires—yet John tells us at precisely that moment he gets up from supper—his last supper—takes off his outer garments, ties a towel around himself, and begins washing the disciples’ feet. This makes no sense in our world! He could do anything and yet he washes feet, which includes the feet of Judas, who has not left yet to betray him.

For people raised in a self-centric culture likes ours, this is idiocy. But for John this is a display of Majesty. Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”  

So what does it mean to be glorified? Our Living Stones implementation team has been hard at work creating a plan to light the parking lot so we can walk safely to our cars at night and a plan to light the exterior of our building, so people driving by can see it in all its glory.From Jesus’s point of view acting like a slave shines a light that reveals his true nature, as well as the true nature of God. As he washes feet we see Son and Father in all their divine glory.

Jesus says, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” We’ve been celebrating Maundy Thursday for centuries and we still catch ourselves wondering if we will ever understand why the Lord finds his glory in utterly debasing himself in this kind of service. No Jewish man would ever take off his clothes in this way except with his wife. Now Jesus does it in a room of men and women.

If you are a slave, of course, it doesn’t matter if you strip down to your underwear, because you don’t have any personal dignity to lose anyway. The only way Jesus could get any lower would be if he stripped off all his clothes and hung naked on a cross—in public.

The question for us is the same question for Peter: Does he actually see Jesus’s glory or does he only see him acting strangely?

When Peter tells the servant girl later that night that he doesn’t know the man, in many ways he is telling the truth. He doesn’t know then just as he didn’t know when he scolded Jesus for saying he had a date with a cross. 

Peter was willing to believe that Jesus came from God and was going to God, but he couldn’t wrap his mind around what foot washing and crucifixion reveal about the nature of God.

In his humiliation Jesus reveals God—glorifies God—so we can see Triune God in the same way Jesus sees.  What does Jesus see?

John tells us Jesus sees love: “Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loves them to the end….” To the end of his life, yes, but also to the depth of all love.

This is the God Jesus reveals for us. We may never understand such vulnerability and humility, but we can understand that that is what Jesus is showing us as he takes off his clothes, grabs towel and bucket.

Peter wants God but on Peter’s terms.  He wants a God on a throne who will defeat Caesar and build an empire. Unfortunately from time to time the Church has also wanted this same triumphalist God.

But Jesus says, “Peter, if you don’t receive me on my terms you will not receive me at all, and you will miss your vocation, your life.”

After he puts his clothes back, on Jesus tells the disciples that he wants them to act in the same way toward each other.   In fact the only way they can love as Jesus loves, is if they are willing to receive his love first. Peter must allow Jesus to wash his feet, in order to receive the necessary humiliation and grace to die to self and surrender to Christ.

As Richard Rohr says, “Grace is always, always, a humiliation for the ego.” He describes this unearned grace “falling upwards.”

That’s why my assistant rector at Grace, New Bedford was right when she pointed out that we were doing the foot-washing wrong. It had made sense to me to have a line of folks who would wash the feet of the person in front of them and then, after washing feet a person would sit in the chair and have his or her feet washed. It made for an efficient process. Wash feet and then you get feet washed.

But that’s the ego running a capitalistic scheme where you give something in order to get something in return. It’s not gospel. No, first we receive from Jesus and then, and only then, are we in a position to wash someone else’s feet.

Of course, this night isn’t primarily about feet, but about the transformation of a group of strangers from every tribe, language, ethnicity, race, sexual identity, or orientation INTO sisters and brothers who love each other as Jesus loves them.

That’s why Paul in talking about Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians 11 tonight goes on to say, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement on themselves.” 11:29

He means discerning Christ in the body, but not only in the bread, but more importantly, recognizing Christ in our sisters and brothers with whom we share the meal.

It is only magical thinking to imagine Christ in the bread and wine, if we don’t also see Christ in one another.

Jesus is creating a pan-tribal community of worship and service, the Body of Christ; a community that is in Christ and empowered by Christ to follow the God who takes off his clothes, grabs towel and bucket, to serve the human tribe that God loves.