Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on Maundy Thursday, 2018
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Last Sunday (which was Palm Sunday,) I talked about how much we need the gospel story that goes with that day. We need it to remind us of that there is a very public dimension that comes with being people of faith. Remember that the gospel on Palm Sunday spoke of a triumphal procession into the very large City of Jerusalem. We listened in on the shouts and judgements of religious and government leaders and people of faith as they wrestled very openly and loudly with the presence of the Messiah. We heard the mess of it all, the noise of it all, the fearful voices, the hopeful voices, the prayers of the Christ, and the cries of the people. On Palm Sunday, the people were out there and they were loud: “This is the salvation and healing we seek!” they cried out. “In this moment we find hope!” they shouted to all who would hear them.
We need that part of the story to call us out to embody and proclaim out loud God’s vision for what “loving your neighbor” looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like.
But we need tonight too. To do the very same thing just very differently. Tonight doesn’t look like Palm Sunday nor does it look like any other moment in the Holy Week gospels. The disciples gathered in a room all by themselves and so tonight, it’s just us here indoors, in the church basement. While Palm Sunday was so very public, and tomorrow’s story is too, tonight is instead very intimate. It’s relatively small; it’s quiet too. We aren’t shouting, or waving, or processing at all, except for a short trip upstairs as we prepare at the end of this evening for the next part of the story.
Unlike Palm Sunday, tonight the scene and our actions are very basic and very simple. Tonight we don’t process from here to there, instead, we move in a circle, we move in a familiar circle as we talk, and wash, and break bread and share with each other – you being “an other” that I already know and who knows me too.
And there is something holy about the circles we create and in which we participate tonight. Our role in the circle is to remind one another of God’s profound love for us all, and to practice what it means to love each other: “I give you this new commandment,” Jesus said. In the circles of Grace we remember and we practice imperfectly, but in all things we practice what loving one another looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like so that when we’re out there it is who we are too. “This is how they will know you are my disciples,” Jesus said.
It’s that simple. And it’s that challenging. It can ironically be more challenging to allow your friend to wash your foot than it is to shout out a vision in a group of total strangers The skills needed in both places, however, are the same or at least related in their core – in their motivation. And so we practice in here. We reach out across the circle to pass something that’s needed just five feet away. We ask, “How are you?” to the person seated right next to us and we allow for a real answer. In these circles we offer our brokenness and our strength among people who have promised to love us no matter what. We reach out with our feet and our hands We wash, we pass peace, we eat, and we pray. In this circle, we share our stories, our water, our bread, our wine and in this circle we learn through acts of love that forgiveness, redemption and resurrection can be had.
What we do in these circles is holy, Jesus says which is why we need tonight’s story too. Who and how we are with each other in these circles matters. Christ is here. And so even though the volume has shifted from shouts to gentle conversation our message is the same, “This is the salvation and healing we seek. In this moment we find hope.”
May it be so. May we as people of Grace find Christ present in the circles we are tonight and always. And may this too be our way of presence in God’s world.