April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17, 3b-35 

The Rev. Genevieve Razim

Thousands of miles from this gospel scene in Jerusalem is Ireland, where the good news of Jesus arrived in the 5th century. From the region of West Kerry, which faces the mighty Atlantic Ocean, comes an old saying: You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.[1]

Lovely, isn’t it? Comforting. Worth remembering as we remove our socks and shoes in God’s sanctuary. 

For every year on this night during the foot-washing, I find it rather easy to get distracted. Distracted from what is actually happening here; distracted from what Christ is doing.

It’s true. I get caught up in the liturgical logistics: water pitchers, basins, towels, altar guild – how’s it going? I can also become distracted by my feelings of vulnerability. As someone who always likes to put her best foot forward, on Maundy Thursday, I put calloused and tired feet forward hoping not to be judged. 

I know I’m not alone. Over the years, I’ve heard folks in anticipation of this tradition express feelings ranging from excitement to dread; inspiring pedicures for some, boycotts for others. Notice what this ritual stirs up.

Peter had feelings about foot-washing too, but for different reasons. His objections take us deeper into the heart of this sign. Hospitality in 1stcentury Palestine included foot-washing, so he wasn’t objecting to the washing, he was objecting to Jesus in the role of a servant.

He must have sensed that being on the receiving end of Christ’s humble act was going to disrupt his understanding of leadership and of power. What Jesus — the Word Made Flesh — was doing would require “a radical reinterpretation of his own life-world, a genuine conversion of some kind, which he was not prepared to undergo.”[2]

To this, the contemporary disciple – with or without pedicure – responds: yeah, that too, Peter. That too. I am uneasy about that as well. 

Into this mix of emotions and role-reversals, Jesus asks his disciples then, and his disciples now: 

“Do you know what I have done to you?” 

Do you know what is really happening here?

Graciously, Christ leads us to understanding. He says: I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (13:15). Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (13:34-35). 

He also says a bit further into his discourse: I do not call you servants any longer […] but I have called you friends (15:15).

Jesus shapes this gathering of disciples into a particular kind of community: a community of love, a community of friends. The creation of this community is a component of what John’s gospel means when it says: “he loved them to the end” (13:1).

This is what is happening here, so don’t be distracted! 

Just as it happened on that night two thousand years ago, so it happens again. Just as surely, just as truly. Christ is washing our feet: loving and transforming us, further shaping us into a community of love, community of friends. 

To borrow words from Brené Brown, no longer must we perfect, perform, and “hustle for our worth”[3], for the Son of God washes all of that away with water and love. And he gives us the gift of hope; secure in the reality that our worth and belonging is in God: as created in God’s image and baptized in Christ. 

With a towel and water basin, Christ is getting on with his mission of loving the world and showing us what it looks like to lead, to love, and to be in community. Making us a holy web of relationships, empowered by God’s grace: creating a space and a place to love, trust, forgive, serve, and belong. It is nothing less than an in-breaking of God’s reign in this world…

Christ’s community of love, community of friends — in Houston. You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore; thousands of miles from Jerusalem, a couple thousand years since the first Holy Week.

Early-church theologian Turtullian reported in the 2nd century that Romans would say: “Look at these Christians — see how they love one another!”

What might our neighbors and acquaintances say about us? Might they receive the good news of Jesus, as the people of Ireland did in the 5thcentury? 

Our age is marked by increasing loneliness, especially among young people. There is a palpable coarsening of our society and an erosion of empathy.

But these Episcopalians! See how they love one another … how might I be one of them?

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, who on this night shapes us — with all of our vulnerabilities and imperfections — into a beloved community. 

So that in the days ahead, we will not only be there to love and care for one another, but also to take the hand of the lonely, the lost, and the broken … and invite them into this sacred web of relationships knit together by God’s love and grace … that one day they may also say:

You, St. Andrew’s, are the place where stand I stand on the day when my feet are sore. A community of Christ’s love, a community of God’s friends.