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. 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.
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.”
At our Maundy Thursday liturgy we had an individual absolution following the confession; people came forward, I laid my hands on them saying "In obedience to the command of Christ I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. Amen". Everyone had their feet washed and then in turn washed the feet of someone else. In addition, we assembled safe sex kits for http://www.praxus.org/ to be handed out on the Denver streets to homeless youth, IV drug users and sex workers. We did this as an act of love and because God loves us where we are and as who we are...not just after we've washed our own feet.
In John’s Gospel the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s own self scandalously slipped into skin and moved into the neighborhood. He called to follow him blue collar illiterates, bureaucrats and prostitutes. He turned water to wine, and wine into blood. He raised the dead, healed the sick and fed the hungry. And he wept.
The question of “Who is this man” followed him everywhere. He called
himself the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good
shepherd, the resurrection, the true vine, the way, the truth and the
life. And none of this helped anyone figure him out…not really. He
infuriated the religious establishment and confused his disciples. Then
after the conspiracy to kill him had begun but before he was betrayed
and arrested he was at dinner with his faltering friends when he got
up, put the towel of a servant girl around his waist, and washed their
feet speaking of love and death and glory.
Then he asks this question “Do you know what I have done to you?”
Do you know what I have done to you he asks.
Well, he’s done something or else you all wouldn’t be here. Something has happened that has made us followers of Jesus. I know a lot of you and understand that you quite justifiably have every reason not to be a part of a Christian community. Several of us have tried to leave but somehow the Christ event is centrifugal. Something has happened…But what? And why does he ask this now after washing the feet of his friends….Friends like James and John who will be unable to stay awake and pray with him before his death, Judas who will betray him, and Peter who will deny him.
What has Jesus done to them, to us? He’s met us with dirty feet. God was made man and walked among us – walked among the despised and wretched – the rich and haughty and did so – does so – when we are unclean. The love of God comes to us not when we’ve managed to clean ourselves up a bit…not when God is good and sure that we believe all the right doctrine, but here, now, when our feet are dirty. He kneels before us in love and says here’s what I’m about. Here’s the only doctrine you need…God pouring out God’s self and saying now you do the same…. don’t be ashamed of your dirty feet because I will touch them … I will change you.
This following Jesus thing is not a kind of personal dirt management program. Which is what it feels like the church has so often been about . Rather than live into the discomforting and radical reality that God is loving us dirt and all, the church has chosen to make it all about worthiness. We’re like, experts in this. Only those who are worthy may receive Christ at communion – you have to be baptized or baptized in the right church or you need to have confessed first or agreed with our pure pure doctrine. Basically you must have thoroughly cleaned your own feet before sitting at Jesus’ table. And let me tell you…this whole church as sin management program thing started about 20 minutes after the first Christians gathered together. But we miss the point when we try managing our stuff in order to be worthy of being in Christ’s presence. I guess I wonder if a guy who is willing to take off his cloak, wrap the towel of a servant girl around him and wash the filthy feet of his friends who are about to betray him is a guy who would start a religion based on the shame and worthiness of those he loves? He asked nothing of them but to love each other dirt and all. After all, the dirt is inevitable and not the result of anything but our journey as the broken. To not have the dirt is to not have been on the road at all. Dirt is simply the inevitable experience of the ambulatory. Yes we too need to be washed of the buildup of being simply ourselves in the world. As Jesus tells Peter, we are washed in God’s grace and yes entirely clean yet still in need of washing off that which has clung to us, the dusty daily remnant of brokenness. But just the feet, and it comes off pretty easily, with the hearing of the Word, with the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood, with the proclamation of forgiveness, with the power of reconciliation. It comes off of us in beloved community. This community gathered around Water, Bread, Wine. It comes off not because we are worthy or have managed to gussy ourselves up for Jesus, but because he has done something to us. He has come to us while our feet are still dirty and said “let me take care of that.”
He kneels before us in love and says here’s what I’m about. Here’s the only doctrine you need…God pouring out God’s self and saying now you do the same… don’t be ashamed of your dirty feet because I will touch them … I will change you.
He commands us to love in this same crazy way. It is by this, he says, that everyone will know that you are my disciples: By this, he says, everyone will know that you are my forgiven Christ betrayers: if you have love for one another; not Hallmark greeting card love but If you have Agape for one another. Agape, the derivative love which is only possible from the indwelling of God’s spirit. Agape one another. Not try and manage a deep fondness for the irritating. Not try and create warm feelings toward the unlikable, the socially awkward, the unlovely. Jesus knew better than to imply that if his followers could only muster up enough niceness they would be up to the task of following him.
Jesus shows us what this love actually looks like. He shows us divine
humility and service. He kneels before us in love and says here’s what
I’m about. Here’s the only doctrine you need…God pouring out God’s
self and saying now you do the same. don’t be ashamed of your dirty
feet because I will touch them … I will change you.