Sermon 4-1-21 Maundy Thursday

The Rev. Jen Van Zandt

John 13:1-13

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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you[c] are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.

Since we’re still not together, I hope the photo montage and the reading from John is a new way to reconnect with this story; the rich and intimate act of foot washing.  It’s a beautiful, physical act that illustrates the very center of our theme of “Love One Another as I Have Loved You” through our Lenten journey this year.  For John’s Jesus, it is the foot washing combined with the Lord’s Supper that shows us not only the deep love that Jesus has for His disciples and us, but it models for us how to carry out His commandment of Love One Another.

Scholar Charles Cousar says of this scene that Jesus has “given example which the disciples, and therefore we, are to emulate.  And what a radical example it is!”  He goes on to say that “this act is more than just simply kind deeds to the neighbor.  It’s more than cherry pie in a crisis. It’s more than dollars donated to a worthy cause”. So, my final Lenten question in the sermon tonight is: “how do we get from doing acts of kindness to actually having a share with Jesus?”

Peter is the example of so many of us who may not want to physically experience foot washing.  And, even more so, feel that emotional and spiritual depth and really want to receive Christ’s cleansing act.  As we explored last night on the Wisdom Wednesday Zoom call (which was so rich), there are so many ways that we look at this act and the Lord’s Supper and actually in Holy Week in total.  For many people, actually all of us, we are frequently moving in and out of the depths of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All sorts of things impact that, far too many to name; but you and I, we know what they are, for us.

Peter models for us his own fear of intimacy and vulnerability, especially with his Lord and master.  Peter is also one of the most prominent of the disciples, as well as, one of the most proud.  But he’s literally resisting Jesus’ love.  He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it… and neither do we.  I mean we know… ‘it’s better to give than receive’, right? Yeah, it’s also a lot safer.  Yet Jesus keeps at it and reframes this act of love for Peter and for us. 

On the surface, it’s a disciple not wanting the Lord and teacher to do the unthinkable and become the servant. Peter often said throughout the gospels, “Lord forbid it!”  That’s the first level of Jesus’ act.  But the larger hidden portion of what happens is when Jesus explains his act of foot washing.  He says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Share, not as in “shared ministry”, “shared experience”, “sharing a pizza or the driving”. No, this is much deeper, because the Greek word is meros which actually means to “have a part, to be a part of me”.  Jesus desperately wants us to be a part of Him–not a transactional relationship, but a deep and intimate relationship.

Jesus is trying to explain to Peter that he is not the only one who is dealing with vulnerability.  Jesus has gathered His best friends–the people He has spent every waking and sleeping hour with, for the better part of three years–and He’s gathered them together, even though he knew one would betray Him.  He carried out a deeply tender act to show His love for His disciples, but also His need to be connected and bonded and to share this night with them and with us.  Jesus knows where He’s going.  He knows what He’s about to do.  And what He does. Instead of running away or staying in silence by Himself, He spends a time with his closest friends on His very last night. 

It’s a little bit different than a friend of mine, Robert, who a number of years ago hit 65, and he decided that he would throw his own repast. He had a picture of himself on a huge easel.  He had a huge party in an Italian restaurant. He made everyone wear black and then he made us all get up and tell him how great he was before he had passed.  ‘Pretty sure Jesus wasn’t going that direction.

But don’t forget, Jesus was not only fully divine–He was fully human.  He was scared.  He was vulnerable.  He knew what was ahead.  He needed his friends, not only to be hanging with him, but to share that experience with Him as best as they (and we) possibly can.  He knew as the Son of Man that He had to carry out His Father’s will, but He was also wanting to show and transfer that deep love in a way that the disciples (and we) could understand which, of course, they didn’t until He was crucified.  “Having a share” means having a part in His ministry, in His legacy, like companions to the sick and the dying.

So, as we approach the table tonight, recognizing that Jesus changed forever the meaning of bread and wine, may we not only take the bread and wine and have a share in His body and blood, but have a share in him, because He gives His life to save ours.  Amen.