READ: John 13.1-17, 31b-35
We have reached Holy Thursday.
In our walk to the cross with Jesus,
and still enduring this season of Lent,
we come to the table tonight.
The story, as we well know it, is that of unity, goodbyes and, of course, betrayal.
The story, as we know it, is about Jesus, who during the Last Supper, dips a piece of bread in wine and hands it to the disciple who will betray Jesus.
We know him as Judas Iscariot,
the greedy and dishonest disciple who pilfers money from the poor and sells Jesus to the authorities for a bag of silver.
But while Matthew, Mark and Luke — the synoptic Gospels — put this Last Supper as the first day of passover and focus on the bread and cup,
the focus of John — whom we’re reading today — isn’t on the bread, but on the foot-washing.
And it’s not the Last Supper; it’s the day before the Festival of Passover, John tells us.
John brushes through this little fact that the other disciples so elaborately dwell on:
Verse 2 and following:
“Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus.
Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God.
So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.”
Jesus explains to them that while the disciples are clean (from their baptisms), not everyone at the gathering was.
And so, for John, the betrayal isn’t really about the Last Supper; it’s about the foot-washing.
You see, the eucharist is a celebration of all of Jesus’s life, and not singly associated with the night of his betrayal.
John doesn’t want to mix those things up.
And so here we have to seemingly opposite events:
The breaking of the bread which is sharing in the life of Christ’s body,
and this foot washing act, which is used to accentuate how we are called to live as Christ’s body.
Those who do not live in the body are not truly disciples.
And clearly, Jesus notes the contrast in Verse 18:
I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen, but this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me.
Jesus is quoting Psalm 41.9.
And as we know, Judas gets up from the table and leaves.
In this season of Lent, we’ve been talking much about binaries.
The either/or situations, the right/wrong statements, and the if/then conditions.
John presents us with another here.
Jesus is running out of time to show his disciples how to live into the kingdom.
Remember, he’s just days away from the cross now.
And so much of what Jesus has done has been an example of flipping the world as they knew it right onto its head.
The last shall be first.
The children are to be heard.
The poor will be rich.
The powerful will fall.
The marginalized is who he came for.
This homeless man born to a homeless family is the true picture of God himself.
Everything as they knew it was being overturned by the great love and acts of Jesus Christ.
Was it any wonder, then, that the host would become the servant?
Jesus welcomes his disciples into his “home” —
that is, the kingdom life —
but his hospitality doesn’t end there, does it?
No, he also becomes their servant as he bends down to wash their feet.
This is their initiation into the circle of God;
into the love of Christ.
It’s by no coincidence that we see baptismal images in this action:
Washing clean the filth that we carry with us into Jesus’s home.
Who else would make us clean — “bright as snow” as the old hymn goes — other than Jesus himself?
When we think about that baptism imagery, it carries the metaphor of death and life with it.
It’s funny that the wound of death is the very thing we die to.
We enter the water as our wounded, sinful state, and we re-emerge from that place of death into a new life.
A healed life.
A life free from our old wounds.
What are those wounds?
Sometimes, they are the wounds we inflict upon ourselves by our actions and disobedience and disloyalty to God;
other times, they are wounds that have been inflicted upon us by others.
We all carry them:
The pain of loss, suffering, betrayal, denial, addiction, abuse…
Jesus says, “Bring those wounds with you.”
“Bring them to my house.”
“Here you will not only have a seat at the table,
but you will be washed clean from those wounds.”
Healers of wounds
Certainly we know Jesus can heal.
But can we?
Can we heal like Jesus does?
Yes, we can.
In Verse 13, Jesus tells us:
“Do you know what I’ve done for you?
I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.
I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them.
Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.”
Mutual love, forgiveness
Maybe we’ve lost the context of foot-washing 2000 years later.
But we can probably relate on some other levels.
If you invited some friends over for a dinner party, then got out a wash bucket and began trying to wash their feet, you may get kicked under the table.
We don’t really practice this act, at least around here…
But were you ever invited to a dinner party or some other kind of gathering, and you know, maybe you don’t know all the people?
Maybe you think you just got one of those invites out of pity or because you know someone who knows someone?
And you’re not really all that comfortable?
Maybe you even bring with you some sort of baggage or some insecurity…
And then the host comes over and tells you how glad they are that you came!
He or she invites you in, and rather that saying “Just throw your coat on the bed and grab a drink and mingle,”
they actually stay with you and introduce you to their friends.
They speak highly of you, and they know something about your interests which is interesting to them and others should be interested too.
And those friend soon become your friends,
and by the time you leave the gathering, you’re so glad you went.
You literally felt right at home.
See, what had happened was that you were invited into this wonderful new circle.
You were instantly liked — even loved — because the host loves you so much.
And you were blown away by the hospitality.
The host made you feel right at home.
Doesn’t matter who you were, what you’ve done, what you’re wearing, how much you make, what your hair looks like, what side of the tracks you come from, or even what you believed.
You were happy to be there.
You came because you were invited.
And you were loved.
This is the picture we see in the foot washing.
It is the over-the-top serving others because you accepted the invitation and came willingly.
It is the image of the 1 sheep in 99 that is worried over until they are found.
It is the image of the prodigal son who is celebrated and doted over for coming home.
And more, it is the image of hospitality and love we’re taught to show one another because THAT is what it means to live in Christ.
THAT is what it feels like to make our home in Christ.
Once we understand how to live the kingdom life here,
then we’ll be ready for the kingdom life eternally.
Jesus teaches his friends these things.
He focuses on the fact that if we receive Jesus, we’re receiving all those Jesus sends.
And that includes us.
NOW Jesus is ready to be glorified.
NOW Jesus is ready to go to the Father.
NOW Jesus can and will endure the cross.
Jesus has shown the disciples how to live.
And he sums it up with these words:
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.
This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
Do we love each other?
Do we practice radical grace,
If we don’t, the world will never see us as a disciple of Jesus.
We won’t receive those Jesus sends us, and we won’t be received.
Why not, when it’s so easy to love one another?
“Let me introduce you to some people who will just love you.”
“Take my car this weekend; yours needs new tires, and it’s a long drive.”
“Here are the keys to my cabin, you really need a break.”
“Come sit beside me here at the table. You’re always a guest of honor here.”
Loving takes giving:
We must give something of ourselves.
This is the very thing that heals all those wounds.
The ones we’ve inflicted on ourselves;
the ones others have inflicted upon us.
Even the ones we’ve inflicted upon others.
If Jesus — the one who took all our wounds onto his own wounded body — is our teacher, our savior, our king,
and he can still bend down and serve us,
then let us follow Christ’s example,
and humble ourselves and serve others.
Love heals all wounds.
“This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Christ tells us. “When you love each other.”