At Passover, our Jewish friends and neighbors remember the central story of their formation as a people, as God’s people. It was in their deliverance from slavery, in the protection provided by God from the plague of the death of the firstborn, in the passing through the Red Sea, in the giving of the law on Mt Sinai, in the miraculous provision for a great multitude during 40 years of wilderness wandering, in the giving of the Promised Land, it was in and through these things that God formed them as a people, as God’s people. In some sense those stories are our stories, too, as we reinterpret them in and through Christ. As God saved the people in and through the Red Sea crossing, and made them a people in the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai, so, too, we pass through the waters of Holy Baptism, and we are made God’s people in Christ, called to live under the law of love…
Tonight we begin our keeping of the Great Three Days that are at the heart of our faith. This is the feast that makes us who we are, only, there’s a huge difference between the Passover of old, still kept by our Jewish friends in Seder meals and our keeping of Pascha, or Easter, in the keeping of the 3 day feast that starts tonight, for, while they keep the feast, remembering how they were made free, we keep this feast, especially tonight’s part of the feast, remembering that we are enslaved…
Tonight is called Maundy Thursday. This night is about a mandate, a new commandment , that’s what that strange churchy word “Maundy” means, after all. On this night we receive from our Lord a mandate, a new commandment, to love one another as Christ Jesus has loved us. And that love is shown in what we heard on Sunday as we read that powerful hymn in Philippians chapter 2. Christ Jesus, though he was God, emptied himself, becoming a slave. And we see, in tonight’s Gospel, an expression of that emptying, as Jesus, the master and Lord, washes the feet of his faithless followers, becoming a servant, so that they might remember and understand what love looks like.
Actions, it turns out, especially in John’s Gospel, really do speak louder than words, and having done this lowly, loving, intimate act, Jesus tells them that they ought to – or as it literally says in the Greek, they own it as a debt to one another – to wash one another’s feet. Now some Christians have understood these words symbolically, as a call to humble service – God’s people serving those in need, emptying ourselves of whatever status we want to claim, and becoming the servants of all in Christ’s name. Some consider foot washing a sacrament and practice it as such in keeping “Agape Meals” connected to, or in preparation for, keeping the Eucharist.
In this congregation, for the past several years, at least, we have practiced foot washing as part of our keeping of this night, not as a Sacrament, but as a reminder, as a way of remembering the power in symbolic acts. And the hope, of course, is that the next time someone who has had their feet washed and has bent down to wash the feet of a brother or sister sees someone in need of honest, humble service, no matter how humble or lowly the act required, we’ll remember this night, and this act, and we’ll do what must be done to be of service, for if our Lord Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a slave, how could we do any different?
In our keeping of this 3 day feast, beginning tonight, continuing on Good Friday, tomorrow, and coming to an end in the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night, we are formed as God’s people. This central feast of our Lord’s death and resurrection makes us who we are – it makes us slaves who owe it as a debt to one another to love, even as we have been loved, without bounds, without exclusion, without required hoops to jump through. Just to love as Christ has first loved us, with a love displayed in humble service
- A love displayed in the forgiveness of sins
- A love displayed in hearing and receiving the new commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us
- A love displayed in humble service and the washing of feet
- A love displayed in keeping the Lord’s Supper together, and in keeping the supper, becoming, ourselves, Christ’s broken body, living and loving and serving in the world in his name
Christ has called us to be God’s people and has given us this new commandment to love one another as he has loved us. May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, live ever more and more into that calling.