Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. Jesus got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of his friends, drying them with his apron.
In this fourth gospel, we hear the story that takes place during the last meal that Jesus spends with his friends before his death. Jesus washes the feet of his friends, and asks them to do likewise. In this fourth gospel, John, the gospel writer points us to two central activities that show us who we are. Washing one another's feet, and eating together. God provides for God's people and God's people serve one another. So it is significant that this is what we do as we participate in these final days of Jesus' life. We eat this meal together, and we wash one another's feet.
Imagine having been at this particular passover meal. Hoards of people have arrived in Jerusalem for the festival. All clamoring for a place to eat the meal. You, being a friend of Jesus, are in this room, with these people, reclining at this table. Bartholomew, James, Andrew, Judas, Peter, John, Mary, Thomas, James, Joanna, Philip, Matthew, Susanna, Thaddeus, Simon, and all the other men and women and children who were gathered that night. The meal is spread before you, the unleavened bread, the roasted lamb, and the bitter herbs. And in the middle of the meal, Jesus gets up, he takes off his robe and ties a towel around himself.
How odd, how extraordinary. He pours water into a basin and begins to wash everyone's feet. They surely needed washing, there are no clean feet in all of Jerusalem after a day of walking about, gathering supplies for the meal, visiting friends and relatives. But who does he think he is? That job is not his, Peter insists, it is the servant's work. We call Jesus King. A King, who does servant's work? Something here is astoundingly different. Something here shows us what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Wash one another's feet. Love one another by serving each other.
One of the people I really miss in our world is Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers taught us about being a neighbor. Fred Rogers invited a friend of his, in fact someone he had heard singing in church, to be his neighbor on his television show. Francois Clemmons joined the cast of the show in 1968, becoming the first African-American to have a recurring role on a kids TV series. Mr. Clemmons played the police officer on the show. He said he wasn’t really interested in this role initially, because growing up where he did, he did not have a good opinion of police officers. On one episode, Mr. Rogers was resting his hot feet in a plastic pool, and asked Mr. Clemmons, playing a police officer, to join him in resting his own hot, weary, feet. They sat and chatted, as Mr. Rogers did, and eventually the police officer got up to leave and get on with his day, and Mr. Rogers got down on his knees, and wiped dry the feet of his friend. In one fell swoop, Mr. Rogers shows all those watching, who is our neighbor, and how we serve one another.
So that is entirely related to sacrament. You remember, the outward sign of an inward grace. And I've been thinking about those outward signs. Water...oil...flame....bread.....wine..... But other things too, wind... dirt.... seeds....
Sometimes life's events feel so big, and wide, and broad, and overwhelming. The pain and the joy of life bring us soaring to the mountaintops and to the depths of despair. And much of life is lived somewhere in between, in the mundane sacramental moments of making dinner for those we love, or driving our children to dance and music class, or doing our taxes, or taking a bath, washing feet or dreaming dreams. It is in the ordinary Jesus shows us sacred. In the muck and mess that is washed from our feet.
In the ordinary meal, our cracks are filled, our fissures healed, we are made whole. In the mundane washing, we overflow with mercy and compassion. Jesus seeps into our very being, washes us, feeds us, heals us. Jesus shows us who God is, and Jesus teaches us who we are.
Let me wash your feet, take this bread, and you will be healed. Jesus offers love, and forgiveness, healing and compassion. And Jesus shows us how to do what we are called to do.
On this night, the night Jesus is handed over to be tortured, betrayed by his friend, Love really does win.
The violence perpetrated on Jesus is hard to hear, hard to watch, because you and I are implicated in it. We have not been perfect. We have judged, we have bullied, we have missed the mark. We have offered ridicule when mercy was called for. We have fallen asleep when we should have paid attention. But, we are loved perfectly. Love still wins.
The gift we are given this night, mercy and compassion, foot washing and food, washes over us, nourishes us, puts us back together. We are re-membered. Come and receive the gift. Come, and remember who you are. Jesus, is here, in our midst, walking with us. Come, be filled with the love that gives everything and takes nothing. And you will know what love looks like.