A sermon preached on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016 at Faith Episcopal Church, Laguna Niguel, by the Rev. Patricia Eustis.
Women before women
To soothe the sourness
Bound in each other’s journeys.
Corns, calluses, bone knobs
All received and rinsed
Given back clean
To Sunday shoes and hightops.
This is how to prepare for the Lord’s supper,
Singing and carrying a towel
And a basin of water.
Jesus started it: He washed feet
after Magdalen dried his ankles
with her hair. “If I wash thee not,
thou hast no part with me.
Lord of the bucket in the well. Amen
This is a quote from parts of a prayer written by George Ella Lyon, a woman poet from Kentucky.
Each Holy Week someone asks me what the word “Maundy” means. I usually say “Holy” but then, as I do every year, I look it up again and remember that Maundy is from the Latin word “Mandatum,” mandate, commandment.
Mandatum is taken from the first word of the sentence Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
In our world today that is a tall order. I turn on the television or pick up a newspaper and magazine and the rhetoric I hear doesn’t seem particularly loving. It seems people have taken that commandment to mean, “I love only those who look like me, think like me, have my faith, act like me, have my history, or for that matter the ones , “I” choose to love – good heavens.
I’m not meant to love everyone, am I, just those I choose.
What if I told you that the translation for this phrase has always been wrong.
It has, you know.
The correct translation of the Aramaic is “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as you love your God.” Love one another as you love your God….
You see it’s easy to love one another as we love ourselves, even when we don’t love ourselves, we can pretend that we do.
It is easy to love one another as Jesus loves us, however, that seems somewhat vague because we weren’t there when Jesus walked the earth. Because we were not there it makes it easier for us to forget Jesus’ mandate. What does it matter, he wasn’t talking about us anyway. He just meant the disciples.
BUT to love one another as we love God, then we have to do a lot of soul searching. How do we love God:
Do we love God when everything is going right?
Do we love God when we’re in trouble praying, “God you know I love you help me through this trial”?
Do we love God only when we come to church? Here in the confines of the sacred space, we can remember that God is all powerful, that God loves us.
In the Eucharist we remember that God came among us, because God loved us. So we need only love others and our God for that one hour and we don’t have to do much to show it in the confines of the service.
But how do we love God out in the world, in the every day trials and tribulations, or in those times when everything seems to be going right.
Do we recognize that God is incarnationally present, that God’s love has substance, has a body. It is in the body of all those we meet along the road of our life?
In this passage from John, the crowds, the opponents, and the public scenes are gone, and Jesus turns to prepare the church for betrayal, death, departure, and the coming of the Spirit.
This is Jesus’s farewell address.
Jesus knows that it will be hard for the disciples to remain in contact with him, he will become as some scholars say, “The historical Jesus.”
Jesus was not thinking of our modern definition for “The historical Jesus”…
Today, this term is used to refer to attempts to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth by the critical historical method. Understanding the historical and cultural context in which Jesus lived.
Jesus wanted them to viscerally feel his presence. To feel his presence as though he was still with them.
It was to be experiential, not theoretical.
The sense of his presence was to help them each time they felt abandoned. His presence is there even when they and we fall short of our promise to a live a truly Christ-filled life.
We convince ourselves that, because of our past, because of our failings, we are unworthy. Like Peter we will not allow Jesus to wash our feet.
But, it is particularly in those things we didn’t do, can’t do, and don’t do well, that we are offered a chance of redemption in our Holy Week Journey.
We are reminded that we can have our shortcomings cleansed.
We are reminded that it is not how much we have, or how much we know, or what is our background. Tonight reminds us that we are loved for all of who we are.
Foot washing is symbolic of humility, loving servant-hood and partnership.
What Jesus was saying is that foot washing is so important that without it a disciple (one who sits at the feet of a teacher) cannot become an apostle (one who continues the work begun by the teacher).
Without allowing ourselves to humbly wash each other’s feet, we are not in partnership with Him. Without it we cannot share in the ministry of Jesus, we are not part of what Jesus is doing. Matthew 12:30 states: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.”
Jesus is showing by example as opposed to dictatorship that without humility and loving servant-hood, partnership is not possible.
In Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, they became shareholders and partners in his work.
In this liturgy, we are invited to become shareholders and partners with Christ. We are invited to continue the mission and ministry that Jesus began and that the apostles continued. We become another generation of apostles.
Jesus also understood that the disciples would need to be able to powerfully convey that experience of him and of his teachings as they continued his mission and ministry.
He did this by the words of the Commandment, and he did it by the following actions of blessing and breaking of the bread as a remembrance of his broken body, and blessing of the wine, his blood that will soon be poured out because of his love for us and for his creator. He can do no other and he wants the disciples to understand that he is not a victim.
Although the coming passion and crucifixion are the actions of the Roman leaders, he has freely chosen to remain true to what he believes God has called him to do, that is to love in a time of unlove, to sacrifice in a time when sacrifice is seen as foolish, and to be humble in a time when humility is seen as weakness.
If he is true to what he believes his creator has called him to do – to love everyone, regardless of their love for him. To serve, all, especially those who are the least successful in society and most in need.
To feed through the remembrance of the gift of his body that was constantly given while he walked among them.
No, it is not the actions of a victim but a statement of faith.
Faith in his God as a God of love. Faith that tells them he will not desert them in their hour of need.
It is an act of love and faith we share when we convey that love to others in our mutual journey..
What would the world look like if we all followed Jesus’s mandate, Jesus’s commandment. To love others as we love our God.
I believe it would be a very different world then the one in which we live.
To love as we are loved by God and to humbly love others as we love our God means that no one is different, we are all creatures not made in our image , but ALL made in God’s image.
To love as we are loved means that we cannot harm others through war, anger, and the punishment that takes away another’s life.
To love as we are loved is to step out each day in joy having faith that no matter what comes to us today, we are loved and we are not alone but are sustained through joy and through trial by the great love of God in Jesus Christ.
It is to be a humble servant sharing with the world God’s love for us.
Richard Gillard, the New Zealand composer, is known for penning the words to a hymn called “The Servant Song.” He gives language to the symbolism of the foot washing action we perform in his powerful words. These words ring true on this Maundy Thursday.
Brother, sister let me serve you.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
To let you be my servant too.