April 17, 2003
(John 13: 1-15)
Tonight on Holy Thursday, we remember Jesus' last day, as he shared
the Passover Meal with his friends and prayed in agony in the Garden of
Gethsemane where he was betrayed, abandoned and arrested. On Good Friday,
we go with him to the cross, and stand with him as he dies and mourn his
death. We walk with him in the crucified peoples of the world today, from
Iraq to Palestine to Colombia.
I invite you to reflect on this amazing scene from John's Gospel, how
at the hour of his arrest, on the night before his execution, during the
Last Supper, Jesus bends over and washes the feet of his disciples, and
then puts a question to us: "Do you realize what I have done for you?"
We could sit with this question for weeks. No one gets their feet washed
except the emperor and his henchmen, the rulers and the rich, who put
their feet up and have their slaves wash their feet and bring them food.
We are supposed to be servants of Jesus, our Lord and Master, to wash
his feet, to give our lives in his defense, but he says tonight that he
is our servant, that he is serving us, that he is the slave of humanity,
and if he serves us, the Gospel explains, then we as his followers are
supposed to serve one another, now and for the rest of our lives, without
a trace of the desire for reciprocation. We never seek service in return.
"I have given you a model to follow," he says, "You too should wash
one another's feet. As I have done for you, you should do for one another.
Blessed are you if you do it."
It's amazing because the Creator of the fifteen billion year old universe
bends down, bends over, gets down on his hands and knees, and washes our
feet with humility and love. As Henri Nouwen once said, we have "a bent
over God," and we are invited to be people who bend over and serve one
another in humility and love.
I think that Jesus learned all this from the woman who a few days earlier
bent down and poured oil over his feet and washed his feet with her tears
and anointed him, preparing him for his death, and that he decided to
do the same for his community. She anointed him in preparation for his
death on the cross, and he decided to anoint his followers in preparation
for their deaths on their crosses. So actually, I think John's Gospel
is inviting us not only to serve one another with humble love, but to
prepare one another for our own deaths, to anoint one another, that this
famous "foot washing" is not just about service, but martyrdom. We anoint
one another for our own journey to the cross and resurrection. We prepare
one another to face our own deaths with the same faith, hope and love
the Jesus showed on the cross.
I like too how when Peter objects to all of this, Jesus speaks about "having
things in common with him." The point is that Jesus wants us all to share
things in common with him. In fact, from Jesus to Peter to today, we all
share this in common with Jesus. Going back to Jesus' time, we are a community
of service and martyrdom, a community that washes each other's feet. At
some point, someone has washed our feet, helped us to walk the way of
the cross and kept us in common with Jesus. As the Gospel concludes, we
are greatly blessed.
Tonight we also remember that just before Judas betrays him, just before
Peter denies knowing him, just before Jesus tells them to put down the
sword, just before all the disciples flee, in this moment of total disaster
and the break-up of the community, Jesus reaches out to be as close to
them as possible in a profound act of intimate friendship and love, saying, "I
want to love you so much, to be with you so much, that I want to be your
food and drink."
The disciples knew the soldiers were looking for Jesus and they heard
him talking about the cross and death. They were ready to betray him,
deny him, and abandon him. Jesus knows all this. If we were him, what
would we do? We would be hurt and mad and angry and start yelling and
say, "Why are you guys leaving me, betraying me, denying me and crucifying
me? What have I done to you? I have been your servant and you are running
away from me and killing me."
But Jesus is not like that. At this terrible moment of betrayal and
abandonment, as we are looking to run out the back door, instead of blowing
up with anger and resentment, Jesus moves closer to us and says, "I want
to be your friend. I want to be your food and drink. Here is my body and
blood for you. What more can I do for you? What more can I give you?" Then
he says, I want you to remember me.
So tonight, we remember Jesus. We ponder that we have a bent over God,
a God who serves us, a God who want to be our friend, a God who wants
to be our food and drink, a God who wants us to put down the sword, a
God who wants us to love one another.
So we welcome Jesus now as our food and drink, and receive his body
and blood, and promise to do as he did, to wash one another's feet, to
serve one another and to help one another walk the way of the cross.
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