With less than 24 hours left on this earth for him, Jesus gathers his disciples together away from the crowds to an upper room. The noise from the street below is somewhat muted --yet there is something different about tonight. Though they are gathered together for a meal, there seem to be no servants around making preparations, no one waiting to wash the disciples' dusty feet before they recline together for a meal.
Jesus knowing that His death is near, THAT HIS HOUR HAD COME TO DEPART FROM THIS WORLD, rises from his place, takes off his robe, and proceeds to tie a towel around his waist. The sense of uncertainty in the room rises. I can almost hear the disciples, turning to whisper to one another --"What is He doing?" Jesus explains to Peter, "you do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
Jesus is kneeling in front of his disciples and washing their feet. I can picture in my own mind, when Mary is kneeling and anointing Jesus feet, or even if the story was about Peter washing the feet of the Master. But for Jesus to kneel tonight, if He were here at St. Michael's and to wash MY FEET!!!!! Would I understand? Would I, like Peter, be reluctant to participate in this- the most tender act of Jesus?
"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 spells it out by giving them a new commandment, "that you love one another….as I have loved you"! They are to humble themselves (We are to humble ourselves) and to SERVE one- another.
"You do not know now what I am doing -- but later you will understand. " Jesus knew that his death was near and "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." Jesus girded himself to perform a menial act of service in spite of the concern and objections of Peter, who is puzzled and offended to see Jesus in the role of a servant. And like Peter, tonight, we have to face our inner reluctance to serve and to be served.
We are called to wash each other's feet because that is precisely what Jesus did at the first Eucharist, at the Last Supper. Both the Eucharist and the Foot Washing are meant to send us out into the world -- ready to give expression to Christ's love, Christ's hospitality, and course Christ's humility. What is so unexpected, and so radically loving, about this foot washing, is --not just that it is the Teacher and Master doing a servants work. What sticks out in my mind is that Jesus held their dirty feet (which undoubtedly they were dirty indeed)…and in that moment of intimacy --- he HELD SO MUCH MORE. Jesus held their untrusting hearts, their weakened spirits, their calloused and embarrassed egos, and their unwillingness to be so vulnerable!
TONIGHT ----We ALLOW Jesus to serve us through one another!!!!
As Jesus has stripped his outer garments --- we will strip the altar this night, preparing for our journey to the cross tomorrow.
Listen now to a poem, by Ruth Mary Fox: Stripped Tree
Alone it stands and silent, a stripped tree,
Robbed of its leaves, its nesting birds all flown.
Round it and through it bitter winds have blown,
Testing its strength by stern adversity.
Serene it stands tonight, all sorrow-free,
Silvered with starlight, its branches radiant grown.
Had it been green with boughs, I'd have not known
This rarer beauty now revealed to me.
I am that silent tree upon the hill:
Strip me of all my leaves, even of my song,
If stark against the sky I can fulfill,
My quest for ultimate Beauty. Not for long
Endures the darkness of earth's bleakest night.
Serene the stars break through with silver light.
Serve one another this night, knowing that as we participate in this sacred act, we are experiencing God's love for us through one another. Christ becomes present with us as surely as He is in the breaking of the bread -- Washing away the GRIME of all our frustrations, our struggles, our mistakes,-- tenderly touching us!
Let us open our hearts to RECEIVE GOD'S LOVE, and to GIVE CHRIST'S LOVE, as we participate in the rest of our service tonight.