April 8, 2004
The Gospel: John 13:1-11
Sermon: "The Love of God is Visible in the Foot Washing"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Love of God is Visible in the Foot Washing
Maundy Thursday - April 8, 2004
When I go to my parents home there are certain things I do. The first thing I do is hug my mother and my father. The next thing I do is check to see what is in the refrigerator. I want to see what goodies my mom may have prepared for my visit. However, when I go to someone else's home I don't quite follow that same pattern. They are the host and the hostess. We might hug. We might shake hands. If I am wearing a coat they offer to take it for me. They usually offer me something to drink and eat. The company, the food and the drink lead to a wonderful evening. The centerpiece of this wonderful evening is their wonderful hospitality. They go to great lengths to help me, their guest, feel comfortable and welcome.
Tonight we read the story of the foot washing of the disciples. We have often heard of the importance of this act in Jesus' day. This act had multiple meanings. First, it was a matter of hygiene. If one walks around a city in sandals one's feet are going to get rather dirty. It was also an act of hospitality. The act of foot washing was similar to taking one's coat at the door. It was often done by servants. It was always done before the meal. Finally, foot washing was also a cultic act. Various groups practiced washing as a part of their religious beliefs. The Essenes, for example, had multiple acts of washing for purification and cleanliness as a part of their worship.
The question is what is the context in which Jesus is washing the disciples feet. We might think it was for hygiene. After all, they are at the Passover meal. However, if it was only for hygiene then we have a problem. Jesus did not wash their feet when they came in the door and before the meal. Jesus washes their feet in the middle of the meal. So hygiene is not the full answer to what is happening here.
Most of the answer is not in the act of the foot washing itself. Most of the answer is found in the dialogue between Peter and Jesus. Jesus has removed his robe. The verb the writer uses for the removal of the robe is the same verb used by Jesus to describe Jesus' laying down of his life. Even before the dialogue there is a deeper meaning suggested by the writer. Jesus comes to Peter and Peter refuses to have his feet washed. He is refusing to allow Jesus to be a servant to him. Jesus' answer is critical. Jesus' washing of Peter's feet is necessary. It is necessary for him to have a "share" with Jesus. To have a share with Jesus actually means to have fellowship with Jesus. To have fellowship with Jesus means that he participates fully in his life. Participation fully in Jesus' life means that he shares in Jesus' home. The foot washing is not about being clean for a meal in the present. The foot washing is about being welcomed into a full relationship with God. The disciples are welcomed into this relationship by the act of Jesus. They are invited into a full and intimate relationship with God and Jesus. Through this act, Jesus draws the disciples into the depth of love that exists between God and Jesus and to all of creation.
What Peter does not realize is what he is refusing when he says no. If Peter removes himself from this act then Peter removes himself from a relationship with God and Jesus. He would remove himself from the promises of God.
Where are we in relation to this event? Tonight we are in the middle of Holy Week. Tonight we remember the last meal Jesus had with his disciples. We also remember the events of the foot washing. We could believe the foot washing is simply an act of hygiene from years past. We could believe it has no place in today's society. If it was simply an issue of physical cleanliness then this form of hospitality would be inappropriate. However, in a spiritual view the foot washing today is very important. We have just spent over forty days reviewing our relationship with God. Please notice the wording. We have reviewed our relationship with God. Hopefully, we have identified some ways in which our relationship is good and wonderful. Perhaps we have identified some aspects of our relationship where we feel distant and on which we would like to uild. In either case tonight is an opportunity. We are invited into an intimate relationship with God. Tonight Jesus invites us into the depth of the love God and Jesus share. We have the opportunity to remember that as Jesus' disciples today we are welcomed by Christ into this relationship. We are loved children of God. God's desire is to have this deep intimate, loving relationship with each one of us.
In a few minutes we will have the foot washing. The foot washing today is an act where we can physically relive the event with Christ and the disciples at the last supper. Is it necessary for salvation? No. It is an opportunity for us to physically, as well as, spiritually acknowledge the relationship we have with God. Notice it is an opportunity. Participating does not mean we have a deeper relationship with God than someone else. Not participating does not mean someone has not observed a holy Lent. The foot washing is an individual choice used by an individual for their own spiritual growth and conviction. Therefore, it is appropriate to say that All may participate, some should participate, but none must participate. God loves us. To help us see that in a way we could understand God sent Jesus, the Son. Jesus loves us. To show us the relationship God desires to have with us, Jesus went to the cross. God's love for us exceeds anything we can imagine. God's love will always prevail.
If anyone should desire to participate in the foot washing please come forward one at a time. Please, please remember all may, some should, none must.