Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan NJ.
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35.
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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
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? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
…Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Rima and Nizar trudged, taking turns carrying 13-month-old Viktor and the backpacks which held all of their worldly goods. The rain was cold; Viktor coughed. They had been on the road with thousands of others for months, always in danger from thieves, food vendors with inflated prices, and the weather turning colder. They worried about Viktor’s cough, Nizar’s back and Rima’s very sore feet and worn-out shoes.
They were like so very many others, but to Rima it felt like the whole world conspired against her, conspired to make her life hellish.
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Halfway across the world, Talia and Rachael heard the booted feet of the soldiers approaching. They ran to the lake and jumped in among the crocodiles, hiding with only their noses sticking out for an occasional fearful breath until the men would pass, safe for another hour – unless a croc might be hungry. Better that fate than the death or slavery the feet in those boots portended.
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Halfway across the world yet again, peoples’ weary feet take them to old-fashioned voting booths. All you can see from outside those booths are pairs of feet shifting back and forth – maybe in flip flops, maybe in sneakers, maybe in boots, maybe in dress shoes – the feet of persons making agonizing decisions – some are praying as they make their choice.
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Sunday we had a parade – complete with palms and Hosannas. Tonight we heard about how a parade from Egypt began. Then we read of bread, wine and Jesus kneeling at his followers’ feet.
The forty-year-long parade of Israelites in a strange land began the night of the first Passover. There have been so many such parades! We think of the streams of refugees – Jews and other Europeans from wars which some of us remember; Syrians and Iraqis from wars of today that we barely understand. There were also once desperately sad parades of Armenians, native Americans, African-American slaves making their way north from Mississippi, Georgia and other places. Today coal-miners walk despondently up from mines, wondering what else they can do to sustain their families as the country gradually turns to “cleaner” forms of energy.
Parades make their way on feet, on the feet of those who take part – waving palms, carrying babies, or tools or furniture. Just imagine the sore feet of the MussQue movers and the parade of household goods that they have transported since Super storm Sandy.
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In the novel “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” (by Rachel Joyce), Harold decides to walk across England to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. Problem is: he only has his old boat shoes and after days of walking, they begin to give out. He suffers terrible blisters but refuses to buy suitable walking shoes; he keeps on patching the old shoes, stuffing them with newspaper. Those shoes are for him like habits and obsessions – and, yes, perhaps convenient, accustomed sins or lies – that he just won’t give up.
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I like to think that this week’s holy story – as St. John tells it -- began with the Gospel we heard two Sundays ago. Jesus was guest at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. And while Jesus was reclining at the table, Mary broke open a jar and poured an enormous amount of strong perfume on his feet. So much that the fragrance filled the entire house and aroused the ire of Judas who bemoaned the spending of such wealth on someone’s feet.
The next day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the humble donkey, the fragrance of Mary’s perfume still strong on his feet. He didn’t ride as triumphantly as we would like to imagine – for despite the palms and clothing spread in his honor, he and his friends knew that danger awaited them. Then followed three or four days of teaching about service and generosity, answering questions put by those wishing to trap him into blasphemy, and then the preparation for keeping the Passover with his friends – on the night in which he was betrayed. The fragrance of the perfume lingered, but weakened each day from the toll of walking through dusty streets with animals.
Even if Jesus had his own feet washed before the Passover dinner, I imagine fragrance from the strong perfume still lingered to remind him of great love and to accompany him to Pilate’s palace, the whipping post, Herod’s hall, on the road to Golgotha, and to the hanging.
We celebrate tonight the great meal which we call the Last Supper. Jesus excused the young slave who was sent to wash his and the others’ feet. Surprising all those present, he knelt down – he, the leader, the teacher, knelt down at the smelly feet of his followers. Gently he looked into each one’s eyes as he poured the warm water over the weary and dirty and aching feet. Did he speak? Did his eyes tell the love he had for these friends? As he wiped the comforted and clean feet dry, perhaps one or two men wiped away a tear; perhaps Jesus did. Peter protested. He was too embarrassed to have his Lord caress his feet. But Jesus won him over. Judas’ turn came and Jesus knelt before him as before the others. What passed between these two friends’ eyes and hearts?
John tells us Jesus loved these men to the end.
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The story of Jesus’ tragic betrayal and death is one which we hear over and over each year. Perhaps some of you have come to Maundy Thursday services 50 times or 60. But this year is not like every other year. Jesus’ story is the same, but this year you are different. Your story is unique, bound up with your own personality and life situation – the joys you cherish, the losses you have sustained this year, the thoughts that swirl in your head at night.
Your story exists alongside the stories of Rima, Nizar and Viktor and thousands like them – newborns and grandparents – hoping for homes and new life, but now languishing in damp tents in huge camps with sore feet. Your story exists alongside the stories of Talia and Rachael and thousands like them terrified of the evils of war in Sudan and … in our own drug-infested streets; your story exists alongside the coal miners, the furniture movers, the Harold Frys who cannot give up old, ruined shoes, old lies and old habits no matter how much their feet hurt. Who will wash the feet of these?
Your story also exists within the story of Jesus.
This story of Jesus is the story of a God who chose to live among us, to suffer here, to die – to offer us a view into the heart of God who overcomes death with life.
Ponder the Christ who stoops to love us, to bathe us with warm water of forgiveness, to caress our weary, not-so-lovely feet – full of corns and bunions. Perhaps you will come forward yourself tonight to have your feet washed. Even if you don’t come forward, do ponder the Christ who kneels, forgives us, and offers new meaning and worth.
And as we pray for Rima and Talia whom we do not know and for the Harold Frys within us whom we do know, let us also give thanks for the beautiful feet of those who bring us the message of peace, the gospel of forgiveness, the joy of love. I think of the beautiful feet of little babies and children and young dancers. I think of the beautiful feet of young grandchildren and puppies who run to greet us when we enter their homes. I think of the feet of the Hungarian woman who ran out to the street to offer her used baby stroller for little Viktor. I think of the boots protecting the feet of the men and women who work all night to keep us safe, to repair our power lines when we live in the darkness of storms, to stand by when the phone rings to respond to cries of help. I think of and cherish the pastors and teachers and friends whose eyes, lives and words speak Gospel. (Thank you, Pastor Mary!)
I remember Mary of Bethany caressing Jesus’ feet with perfume and I feel Jesus washing my calloused and tired feet with the warm water of his love. I remember my Baptism and rejoice with every newly baptized.
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“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Amen.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Beth Orling