This night is so incredibly special. It is a bit like the eye of a hurricane. So much turmoil began to swirl as Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem. Allegiances were made among those who wanted to silence Jesus and the crowds that followed him. Plots were set in motion, but then in the midst of that, Jesus gathered his closest followers and observed the Passover meal with them. This was a meal enshrined among the Jewish people since their ancient ancestors had been freed from slavery and oppression in the land of Egypt. The ritual of this meal had been passed down and embellished through each generation. It was a sacred remembrance of a past event that had powerful ongoing future significance for them. And so Jesus chose it as the moment when he would deliver to his followers his last words and actions among them.
Looking at all four gospels under the cover of the Bible you see that though there are differences among them about this last supper of Jesus with his disciples, all four agree that he delivered to them words and actions about, self-giving love and humble service. In Matthew, Mark and Luke- and later through Paul in our second lesson from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11- we receive the actions and words of the Eucharist, in which Jesus becomes the new Passover lamb, mystically uniting himself with the bread and wine of the Passover meal. He gives himself in this way to nourish those who follow him, just as he will give himself the next day to let God defeat death through him and open our way to eternal life. These are powerful and potent words and actions, and in this night we will again repeat them. They are for us a sacred remembrance of a past event that has powerful ongoing future significance for us. And so we find ourselves in mystical congruence with our Jewish sisters and brothers who celebrate their Passover meal around this same time of year. May God bring powerful healing to the world through this congruence!
There are moments in Matthew, Mark and Luke when Jesus talks with his followers about their approach to power. In each case he exhorts them “whoever would be great among you must become the servant of all.” But it is only in John’s Gospel- in the passage from the 13th chapter that Jay proclaimed among us tonight- that Jesus radically inserts this teaching into the Passover meal by taking off his robe, girding his loins with a towel and kneeling down and washing the feet of his followers, one by one, as a humble servant would.
When he is done he dresses again and asks them “Do you know what I have done to you?” The words are important here – we might rather expect him to ask, “Do you know what I have done for you?” Yes, you have washed us, giving us an example of humble service. Yes you have fed us with bread and wine that we are to raise high at altars over and over throughout time and across the globe as symbols of your love. But if that is all we take away from his words and actions, we have missed something essential. He did not ask if we know what he has done for us – he asked if we know what he has done to us.
In this night what has he done to us? He has changed us. Through his mystical presence in the bread and wine that we consume he has taken up residence within us. And not just us as individuals – yes we have shared sweet communion with him– but even more importantly we who have eaten of one bread and drunk from one cup – we have communion with one another in him. He has fashioned us into a community – into a mystical body – using nothing more for tools than bread and the fruit of the vine.
And with water splashed over our feet – he has changed us! He has changed us from people a bit embarrassed to show our feet to one another, a bit fumbly with the pitcher and the towel in to washers of feet. He has changed us, because this is not to be a once a year event. This foot washing is to go on every day among us, and by us to others who aren’t even in the room tonight or who aren’t even part of the church. This annual foot washing is like training for an athlete, or practice for a musician – it makes us ready to live out humble service through muscle memory in our lives. It is a sort of code of conduct that can take on many forms among us, and is to be our approach to the world. Not many of us were born with a desire to stoop and wash the feet of another. But just like he gets inside us and changes us and binds us together in one body with bread and wine, so also, if we let him, he gets inside and rewires us to be willing and loving servants, literally washing the feet of others, so he can work that kind of action through us the other 364 days of the year.
And here’s the amazing thing of it all to me – we don’t have to live up to any of it perfectly! In fact if we are reaching for perfection, we are missing the point. We are human beings- complex mixtures of glory and grime. That is why we started this service off with the opportunity to confess our brokenness, our screw-ups, our sins – and to receive absolution. He has changed us, but we are still fallible humans who will time and again need to confess and be forgiven. And yet if we hang around with our Lord and this community of the church for very long, he will change us from the inside, until one day we will wake up and realize we are not the same. We will wake up and realize that we have an easier time letting God lead, letting God shoulder our burdens with us, letting others serve us, letting ourselves serve others. And then we will know that we are truly part of the beloved community which he started on this night all those years ago.
Later this evening we will move out of the eye of the storm and tomorrow we will have to enter again the swirl of turmoil as we sit in the shadow of his cross and contemplate again the mysteries of that heartbreaking reality. But for now – in this night- let us say “Glory be to God” – say that with me – “Glory be to God” – yes my friends, “Glory be to God” for what Christ has done to us since we grabbed hold and became part of one another in him.
In his name and for his sake. Amen+