Sanctified for the journey…words for Maundy Thursday 2021, Adel Parish Church.
Here we are, on Maundy Thursday. We gather, with Jesus, in that upper room. We know something’s afoot. We know Jesus is travelling, increasingly wearily perhaps, towards the climax of his ministry. The disciples couldn’t grasp how it would end for Jesus, but they knew their lives were bound up in whatever was coming. As we put ourselves in their shoes, I suppose that tonight we face the same choice…to go with Jesus to wherever this journey ends, or to turn away.
This is where it gets difficult. If we’re going to stay with this story to its outcome, we can’t bypass the next three days. It’s perhaps only in the hard work of these days that we can really find out how the story ends for us.
We come to this holy night, not sure whether we have the courage to stay with Jesus…or even if we are the right people to accompany him. Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt. Perhaps, despite their protestations, they suspected they were going to be found wanting.
I wonder, as they gathered on that momentous night, whether they expected a ‘pep talk’…a rousing speech, Henry V perhaps, or Churchill? Or maybe a symbolic passing on of some of Jesus’ power. Instead, there was Jesus, kneeling before them, washing their feet.
Perhaps you’re relieved that this is a second Maundy Thursday where I’ve not been able to wash your feet…don’t worry, I can wait, I’ll get you eventually! I will, because it’s often been a moment that’s taken me deeper into the encounter of Holy Week, that’s helped it become my story too.
There’s something about feet. In Jesus’ day they would have been the dirtiest part of the body, dusty and smelly from the streets. But even today they’re often the bit of us we prefer others not to see, and certainly not to touch. It’s as if they still represent the part of us we don’t want exposed to the light.
That’s perhaps what makes it such an important part of the story…it takes us out of our comfort zone. And it’s when I’m out of my comfort zone that I’m most ready to be changed.
So, let’s imagine ourselves there now. The lights are low, the talk is intense, there is anxiety in the air. Imagine Jesus, a towel around his waist, kneeling at your feet. He has a bowl of warm water; he takes your foot, tired from the streets, perhaps calloused and sore. Taking his time, focused only on you, he gently washes it…easing the aches. Then he wipes it dry with his towel.
Do you look at him? Or are you too embarrassed to meet his eyes? I suspect he is looking at you – looking with love. Using that look to say…I’ve seen the worst of you, the dirtiest parts you try to hide…and still I love you’.
Using that look to say, ‘I’ve seen the worst of you, and there is nothing here that cannot be washed clean by my love.’
Using that look to say…’I know these feet will run away, but I bless them anyway, and I trust that one day they will carry you back to my side.’
After all, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, I guess with the same loving care. As if to say…even these feet are sanctified, made holy…even these feet can one day find their way back to God.
After the foot washing, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ He laid aside his power and authority, putting himself in the most humble and vulnerable position…and challenged them to accept him as Lord and follow him. He didn’t tell them how to love…he loved them into it. Perhaps that’s why I find it so important that we actually experience the foot washing for ourselves.
It’s about me, in some ways here as Christ’s representative, being reminded that the first tools of my trade should be the bowl and towel. But it’s also about you not keeping the church and your faith at arm’s length, but letting me wash your feet. It’s about sharing our flaws and vulnerabilities. It’s about coming in humility…and finding ourselves bound more deeply to one another, and to this story of faith.
Tonight, we don’t know how the story will end for us. We don’t know how we will react to tomorrow’s pain and suffering, to Saturday’s emptiness. But by washing our feet, and sharing his supper with us, Christ sanctifies and blesses us for the journey. He shows us there is nothing in us, or in those around us, that cannot be redeemed by his love. He shows us how to love one another as we step out in faith to discover the ending together.