Maundy Thursday. I always thought the meaning had something to do with mourning, but if we translate the Latin meaning, this is Commandment Thursday. The day Jesus gave us the command to serve each other, the command to commemorate him in bread and wine at Holy Communion, and the command to love one another.
Today we heard that it was the Passover in Jerusalem, the time when Jews remembered and rehearsed the Exodus from Egypt. They had been slaves; God had promised to set them free; pharaoh refused; God sent the plagues on Egypt; still Pharaoh refused; and so finally God passed over the land of Egypt and delivered a fearful judgement. Yet where doors were marked with the blood of a lamb, judgement was averted. Those doors showed where the people of God lived. The people of God who trusted in God’s promise.
And so, after the judgement of God fell, the people of God – those who trusted him – left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land.
And the Jews remember this every year. God rescuing his people, delivering judgement on their enemies, but saving his people via the blood of a lamb.
In this context, John begins chapter 13 of his gospel. And it struck me how he begins it. “Jesus loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”. He did not abandon anyone.
Jesus knew “that the Father had given all things into his hands”, and Jesus knew that “he had come from God and was going to God”. This is Jesus at his absolute zenith. All, everything, the entirety of the universe was placed into his hands. Jesus saw clearly the glory he had left, and the glory to which he would return.
To find a (bad) analogy, it’s like the footballer Ronaldo – he left glory at Juventus, where he was a legend, to come to Manchester United’s glory, where he was also a legend. Everything was at his feet. And how much more was everything at Jesus’ feet.
And what did he do? He got up, took off a robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and began washing the feet of his rag-tag disciples.
The next US president in two years’ time could be Biden again, it could be Trump, it could be Kamala Harris. But do you foresee any of them, with all that power at their feet, getting up to wash the dirty feet of the people who serve them?
Yet Jesus, Son of God, served us. Remember the context: God saving his people from their suffering via the exodus; averting judgement from them via the blood of a lamb. And in that context of salvation, rescue and mercy, Jesus serves us again.
I have no idea why the washing of feet is not more of a sacrament. I read some arguments on the internet and felt they didn’t particularly hold too much water. I suspect, being a cynic, that we, historically, have been far more comfortable eating bread and drinking wine, which requires less of us, than physically encountering the smelly, warty, deformed, bruised feet of each other.
Yet John’s gospel is quite clear: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
We don’t need to take this literally! Though perhaps, for some of us, this might be very relevant. But the point is that we are to serve one another. The Son of God did not come to be served, but to serve us. Go and do likewise. And sometimes service involves smelly feet!
I’ve been deeply honoured since joining this church to be welcomed and served by so many of you, welcomed for meals and given such kind hospitality. It has humbled me, and I am so grateful to you all. You have served me so kindly.
In his example of serving everyone, Jesus washed feet, and even honoured Judas. His love and service was sacrificial – discarding his status and even his dignity. He went down to serve people like us before going up to glory.
When I was in Moscow, there was a person who really knew how to make enemies. This person was inexplicably hostile to many people, and difficult to get along with. I found this person difficult, but then the chaplain gave me some wisdom: “the best way to deal with difficult people, your enemies, is to serve them”. That Sunday I gave bread and wine to that person, and it was a powerful moment for me, serving this person and remembering that Christ died in service for them because he loved them.
So let us too follow Jesus’ example. How might we serve each other sacrificially? How can we honour people we find difficult? How can we love those we dislike?
Jesus died for us, to make us one family, to rescue us from pointless existence.
Let us continue to follow our master and serve each other, showing the world just what a difference following Jesus makes to our lives. People will find faith by experiencing how we love them: so let us love them, being their servants, as Jesus would.
But let us remember that love begins here in church with our family. Love each other, forgive each other, learn to see through the eyes of your neighbour, and via love and humility, you will grow more like Christ.