We met on Maundy Thursday (March 28, 2013) for a service of worship including communion. As we did so, we considered John 13:1-17, John’s account of Jesus’ final meal with his followers.
For the last six weeks, we’ve come into this room and talked about various meals that have shaped the family of God. Some of them have been huge feasts – such as the feeding of the 5000. Others have been stories that we heard after the fact, like when the ravens fed the prophet Elijah.
Tonight we gather around the Lord’s Table and we are here to talk about the meal that helps to define the Christian family. The Last Supper. The Eucharist. The meal that Jesus commanded us to share in his memory.
This meal, as you may have noticed, has a deep and vibrant connection with one of the other meals that we’ve considered – the Seder dinner that is eaten in conjunction with the remembrance of the time that the angel of death passed over God’s people and was the beginning of the deliverance from Egypt. Like every faithful Jew of his day, Jesus would have observed the Passover Feast. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the meal we know as the Last Supper was in fact the manner in which Jesus celebrated the Passover with the twelve. John, on the other hand, says, “You know, the way that I remember it, we had that final meal with him on the night before the Passover – I remember it because the day he died was the day that the lambs were killed.”
This is not necessarily a contradiction in the Bible – instead, all four of the Gospels are saying that Jesus is the one to whom the Passover points. Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that like the Passover, the communion meal is a means by which we receive the grace of redemption. John says that Jesus is the lamb of God who is slain for the sins of the world. In fact, because of the proximity of the Last Supper to the Passover, the form in which we will observe communion tonight is an echo of the Jewish Seder meal.
A couple of weeks ago I asked you, “What did Jesus know, and when did he know it?” According to John, by the time that Passover came around, Jesus knew everything. He knew what was in store for him. He knew that the hour had come for him to return to his Father. He knew about Judas’ betrayal. In fact, John says, “all things” had been given into his hands.
Think about that for a moment. Jesus of Nazareth has received, this night, “all things.” Power. Glory. Riches. Friends. Status. He could have chosen anything.
That’s what that means, right? If he has “all things”, that means that he can choose anything, doesn’t it? “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…”, now has to make a choice about what to put into those hands.
Did you hear what he chose? He picked up a basin of water and a towel. And then he chose to pick up the feet of the men whom he had called to be his followers. The feet of laborers. Rough feet. Dirty feet. Feet.
He picked up the feet of John, who is often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” You heard about his conversation with Peter, who wasn’t very happy the way the situation unfolded. How do you think Nathaniel reacted when the one whom he had met as a miracle-working truth-teller wound up cleaning his feet? And, of course, he took Judas’ feet into his hands. Judas, who may very well have been fingering the 30 pieces of silver he’d already received for agreeing to betray Jesus. What was Judas’ posture like? How did it feel for him to have Jesus wash and dry his feet – feet that he would later use to lead the soldiers right to the Savior?
Do you remember those bracelets that were popular a couple of years ago that said “WWJD” – it stood for “what would Jesus do?” What if I asked you to wear one that said “WWYDIYWJ?” – what would you do if you were Jesus?
If you had all things in your hands…would you choose to pick up feet? And if you chose to pick up feet, would it be those feet that you picked up?
Think about that. What would you do?
And you say, “That’s a silly question, Dave. Everybody knows, I’m not Jesus. Nobody gets me confused with that guy.” Maybe, maybe not.
But it’s a fair question, and here’s why: because of what Jesus said to them after he washed their feet. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Jesus said a lot of things. And he did a lot of things. But here is something that you may not have pieced together: so far as we know from the Gospels, this is the only time that Jesus ever looked at his disciples and said, “I did this as an example for you.”
Jesus did this with the intention and the expectation that you and I would follow suit.
Now, know this, beloved: I understand that you do not have “all things” in your hands – certainly not the way that Jesus did. You do not even have “most things” in your hands. But you, my friends, have “some things” in your hands. And you, like Jesus…like me…have got to decide: what will you pick up?
Jesus touched their bodies – their physical, earthly, bodies – their bodies that needed to be cleansed and cared for – and he did so with respect and with tenderness and with love.
As he did this, he revealed to them, as Jean Vanier has put it,
“…that each one of them is beautiful, is chosen, and is loved. To continue this mission, which is his mission, to announce the good news to the poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, and to announce a year of grace and forgiveness…when Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples, he is cleansing their feet to show that he wants to cleanse their hearts. That is Jesus. He doesn’t judge, he doesn’t condemn; he cleanses. He just wants us to be people of the resurrection — people who stand up; people who believe in ourselves and in our gift; people who believe in the gift of Jesus — so that we can bring this gift to our broken world.”
What would happen if in the conversations you had, the Facebook posts you made, the emails or texts you sent, you made it your business to follow the example of Jesus?
Jesus had received all things. You have been given some. Many of you have been given much: health, power, employment, intellect, strength, wisdom, courage…
And Jesus, having received all things, became smaller, not bigger. He stripped down. He bent down. He looked down. And he went down to his death…for those whom he loved and served. Even Peter. Even Judas. Even me. Even you.
So now, it seems to me, that my call is to join him in the smallness and in the going down. Because it seems to me that following that weeping, broken, dying Jesus is the best way to follow his example and to maybe…just maybe… become a sign of his resurrection in this world.
The example has been set. The choice is in your hands.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.
 From a sermon preached at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, quoted at http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/jean-vanier-on-the-meaning-of-the-washing-of-feet