On the night of his betrayal by his own friends, our Lord Christ reveals the depths of the intimacy of the community of faith he creates: no barriers, no privacy, nothing between us in Christ.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
texts: John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Feet are awkward and ugly. They often smell bad. That’s the point.
Pay attention to this thing Jesus does, because it makes us feel uncomfortable. How many churches won’t do foot-washing today because it’s too awkward, it makes them uncomfortable? Many worship planners try to imagine a new ritual comparable to what Jesus did, a “foot-washing” for our day that conveys how shocking this was.
We don’t need to invent a comparable intimacy. We don’t have slaves who regularly wash feet dusty from walking dirt roads in sandals. But deep down we know that other people washing our feet makes us squirm. And that’s Jesus’ point.
Calling bread and wine “body and blood” is kind of disgusting. That’s the point.
Pay attention to this thing Jesus does, because we should feel uncomfortable. We say these shocking words so often we don’t hear them carefully, but the early Church’s neighbors knew how uncomfortable they were. “Those Christians eat flesh and drink blood at their worship,” people said.
Every time we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, Paul says, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We come to this altar and are given bread, but we are told, “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” We come to this altar and are given wine, but we are told, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Every time we eat this meal we eat our Lord’s death. That’s so uncomfortable we hardly ever think it. And that’s Jesus’ point.
Passing a cup to share is something we don’t do except here. That’s the point.
Pay attention to this thing Jesus does, because it’s uncomfortable. How many churches won’t share one cup because they’re afraid of germs, because it doesn’t seem civilized? If you ate at my house, I wouldn’t take a glass, drink from it, and pass it to you as if that were normal. I would, however, share a glass with a close family member.
And here, as if we were family, we follow our Lord’s command and do that. It’s a little uncomfortable. And that’s Jesus’ point.
Pay attention to the things Jesus asks of us that are uncomfortable, awkward, make us anxious. They are the doorway to life.
If others washing our feet is off-putting, Jesus says, “that’s just the start of it.” If we worry about sharing a cup, Jesus says, “you’ve only begun to understand.” If we quail at the gross language of eating flesh and drinking blood, Jesus says, “now you are starting to see.”
Jesus has proclaimed a life of love of God and love of neighbor for three years. Now, the night before his death, with little time left, he tries once more to get these women and men who have followed him to understand.
The Incarnate One reveals the true life of God’s children: it is a life with no barriers between people. No “us” and “them.” Not even between us and God, who took on our body.
Jesus gives one, last, most critical commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we let others wash our feet, when we share this meal together, when we say, “this is Christ’s body and blood,” we begin to understand what “as I have loved you” means.
Because if we aren’t even willing to wash each others’ feet, how will we find the courage and will to die for each other? How will we learn to lose all to find true life?”
These rituals are gifts of awkward discomfort, for they reveal this deeper truth and shape our hearts over years to understand truly what love of God and neighbor means.
The beauty of these gifts is we readily understand them and get uncomfortable.
The only time we permit anyone to wash us is when we cannot stop them. When we are infants. When we are incapable due to age or illness. “Now you see,” Jesus says, “that’s the intimacy I need you to find always.” The only time we share glasses and plates with people is with our closest family. “Now you see,” Jesus says, “that’s the way it is to be among you always.”
In our willingness to love each other without barriers, our willingness to let others love us – which we often resist the most – we find this intimacy.
In this new creation Christ Jesus is making, we are brothers and sisters in such a profound way there are no barriers between us of privacy, no barriers of personal space. That’s both wonderful and deeply troubling. But how will we know God’s abundant life for us if not where God reveals?
When we risk such intimacy we are deeply, frighteningly, vulnerable.
Jesus knows he will be betrayed by the people in this room, not just Judas. Yet he takes a towel and humbly washes their feet. He shares a cup with those who will turn on him, as if they were family. This is the entrance to the new community Jesus is making.
Jesus knows his betrayal will lead to a brutal death the next day. So he changes the Passover meal. He says, when you eat this bread you are eating my life, my body. When you drink this cup, you are drinking my life, my blood. This is the utter vulnerability of God’s love for us and for the world.
These rituals Jesus gave us, the washing of feet, the sharing of a cup, the eating and drinking of his death for us, are dangerous if we don’t want to be changed. They have power to move us into a new place. To make sisters and brothers out of “other people,” who are so vital to our lives there is nothing we wouldn’t do for them.
And then, Jesus says, once you’ve learned that here, I’ll open these doors and send you out into the world to learn it with everyone, even those you do not know. Even those you fear. Even those who are different from you. Even your enemies.
Jesus asks tonight, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
We could spend our lives on that question.
And the only way we’re going to know, to see where he is leading, is to do. To get on our knees and wash, and permit others to do the same to us. To share the gift of Christ’s death with each other as if we are the closest of relatives.
Tonight Jesus shows us what love of neighbor looks like, when neighbor becomes sister and brother, and there is nothing between us. Tomorrow he will show us the end of that road, that such love leads to willingness to lose everything for the sake of the other.
And Lord Jesus, we are afraid of this love. We are afraid to let others inside. We are afraid of what you have done to us.
But the one who so calls us, who has done this, loves us, loves you, beyond death itself. There is nothing to fear, for we are loved forever and in the power of that divine love, we are given hearts like Christ, hearts big enough to love the whole world, hearts daring enough to let the world truly know and love us.
Do we know what Christ has done to us? Not fully. But we’re starting to see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen