Pastor Adrianne Meier
6 April 2023 — Maundy Thursday
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana
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John 13:1-17, 31b-35
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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you are not in fellowship with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus 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.” Jesus knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to the disciples, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him now. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When I was a kid, we went everywhere on my grandma’s farm barefoot. Through clover, in the garden, all of the different grasses. The first couple trips of the summer across the gravel driveway were always perilous and my cousins and I would spend the morning planning the best way across—on tip toes? really fast? slowly like a fire walker? By the end of the day, we’d step in the shower and leave black footprints on the floor until the water washed the day away. I never felt bad about my feet, really, and that was a freedom, though I didn’t know it. Now, I stuff my too-small feet with their wonky toenails and other embarrassing features into shoes, slippers, maybe sandals.
After years of washing feet, though, I notice nearly everyone apologizes for their feet. The whole ritual is a little embarrassing—even washing hands is a little embarrassing. When was the last time someone helped you wash your hands? Few of us come joyfully to the experience. And yet we practice this ritual—that it might be a symbol of a great many other actions we might faithfully do—because we believe that it is through humility and service God draws the world together in community.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes hell as this endless town, where everyone is constantly moving away from one another, they’re nasty to one another, they can’t stand one another, so the town keeps growing as folks move from house to house to get more space from each other. One character even tells about how a couple of people went out to see Napoleon, the closest of the “old ones,” there he was, in a huge house, pacing back and forth, and blaming everyone else for his misfortune. For Lewis, hell was the space between us, and our insatiable desire to grow it. Surely Jesus saw it, among his disciples. John is pretty clear that Jesus knows what Judas will do, and Peter, and all the rest—the betrayal, the denial, the disappearance. They would be scattered, flung apart from one another, with only their shame to fill the void between them. And Jesus will be left utterly alone on the cross.
Yesterday, in Indianapolis, Governor Holcomb signed a bill banning transgender health care for minors. It is one of several bills on the legislative docket aimed at transgendered and non-binary folks. Steps that seemed aimed at erasing…erasing people we love. It is a reminder that people can be made so uncomfortable by what cannot be known, people can be so disturbed by difference, people can be so broken by sin—that the only answers they are willing to pursue are assimilation or estrangement. Either become like us, or we will drive you away.
But not so here, not so among those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus. I give you a new commandment, Jesus says, that you love one another, that you traverse the great chasms that form among you, and you do so in humility, in service. It is no small thing that Jesus showed this ritual. Because you can’t wash your own feet—not like this. You cannot tenderly hold your feet, carefully pour the water, carefully dry them. Foot washing forces us to acknowledge that we cannot do this alone. Hannah Adams Ingram, who serves on the Religious Life staff at Franklin College, wrote several years ago for the Christian Century that “There is something in this act that bonds us together so that I am no longer an individual seeking clean feet, but we only become clean together by serving one another and opening ourselves up to be served.” Tonight, we washed one another’s feet in the name of community, in the name of being together, called by the one who, glorified on a cross, draws all people to himself.
Beloved, sin is a wedge that drives us apart, love is the new commandment that draws us together. Sin believes that the way to salvation is keeping things exactly the way they are. Love tells us that the status quo saves no one, or it would have worked already. Love is an invitation to try something new, to be vulnerable, humble, but, most of all, to be called together.