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April 17, 2003

Holy Thursday

(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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