Benediction Online

Saturday, April 04, 2015

You also ought to wash one another's feet

I have never yet had a pedicure. I considered having one this year in honor of my advancing years but still haven’t made the plunge. There’s something very odd, I think, about having someone else touch your feet, especially when it means them kneeling or sitting below you. I think it’s the combination of having someone else handling my feet which are no longer as pretty as they once were, and are nearly always demurely covered, with the discomfort of being served by someone who’s not on an equal level. That may also be why quite a few of us don’t want to take part in the Maundy Thursday foot-washing. Of course there’s always the concern that your feet might be dirty or your socks might have holes in or possibly even smell a little sweaty, but I think it mainly comes from a basic social embarrassment – we just don’t do that.

The disciples seem to have had a similar response to Jesus putting on a towel and washing their feet. Outspoken Peter puts in into words, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" and then when he realizes Jesus is deadly serious, "You will never wash my feet." Washing feet wasn’t so unusual in a dusty land where people wore sandals, but it certainly wasn’t done for a master to wash his disciples’ feet. But Jesus is insistent. Jesus does it anyway, despite their discomfort and their protestations.

This was so important that the writer of John’s gospel doesn’t even mention the bread and wine of the last supper. He just describes Jesus getting down and washing his disciples’ feet. And then he says, “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.”

We should also do as he has done. As we heard in the reading from Philippians this last Sunday, Christ Jesus “ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.” That is our example – that is our pattern.

We are called to empty ourselves of our own egos, those parts of us that worry about social convention, that feel embarrassed because our feet are just like every other humans’ feet – functional, worn, tired, sweaty; we are called to empty ourselves in surrender to God. Just as Jesus became obedient even unto death, so we too are called to be obedient – to take our part in the plan for the redemption of the world.
Surrender is not a comfortable word. But this is not a comfortable gospel. It’s awkward and prickly and a bit embarrassing. It’s not about feeling good and having a nice time but about serving God and serving our neighbor.

The story of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest is one of surrender. Jesus could have evaded the soldiers. He did not. Jesus could have resisted arrest. He did not. Jesus could have prevented Judas from going to the authorities. He did not. Why not? Because he knew that it was inevitable and in a way necessary. He knew that the forces of this world could not and would not rest until he was dead. And he also knew that somehow in the divine wisdom of God which is so very different from the wisdom of this world, that out of that apparent defeat, out of that apparent disaster would come an amazing manifestation of God’s love.

And that is what comes out of our surrender. As we surrender to the Spirit of God, allowing ourselves to be made holy - even though it means letting go of things that we have valued - something new, something that we can’t predict happens and God’s love is manifest in our world in an important way.

Washing each other’s feet is not glamorous. It’s a little weird and a little uncomfortable. But it is a powerful symbol of the mission we have been given. Like Jesus, we are called to a life of surrender and service. An in this symbol we have both. The surrender that allows another to serve us in a curiously intimate way; and the humble service that the very same act symbolizes.

How would it have been different, I wonder, if we only had John’s gospel? If instead of bread and in the Eucharist  being the sacrament of Christ’s love and our participation in the Body of Christ, it had been this act of washing and being washed that had become the central rite and rhythm of our life together?

I suggest that this evening we each take the opportunity to notice how it makes us feel. Do we resist having our feet washed? Do we want to be the washer as quickly as possible? Or is it rather icky touching another’s feet, or perhaps it’s the kneeling down or not being sure that we’ll do it quite right? Are we challenged by the act of surrender or the act of service?  What excuses do we use to keep us sitting in our pews?

As we act out this metaphor of Christ’s obedience and self-giving love, and our own call to join him in his ministry, what is the Holy Spirit saying to us? What is there in us that needs to die with Jesus on the cross and be transformed in his resurrection life?

May the Holy Spirit speak loudly and clearly to each one of us tonight and may we have the humility to empty ourselves enough to hear and, like Christ,  to be obedient. Amen.


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