Click here for tonight’s bulletin: Maundy Thursday 2012
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
— John 13:1-15 (niv84)
When you’re gone, how will people speak your name? Will they say your name fondly, with a smile? Or will they grimace and shake their heads? When your bones are six feet under and all that anybody knows about you is what the people who knew you say, what others think of you? Even if your answer is, “I don’t care,” it’s still a fair question, because it reflects the way you live right now. Another way to ask it is: what will your legacy be? Will you be respected as a pillar of the community, beloved in your church, looked up to by all who knew you? Or will people describe you with phrases like “a real piece of work”? Many times the legacy we leave is built up over time, and small actions when few or none are looking, words spoken without thinking, even an attitude, can have the biggest impact on others. In our Gospel for this evening we see Jesus leaving His legacy for us, His followers. His whole life was for others, but this night was special. Tonight He shows His own the full extent of His love. Let’s watch and learn about a Legacy of Love.
It was supposed to be their last quiet evening together. Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him soon, even if His disciples had no clue, but this was not a quiet, intimate evening with the best friends He had on earth. On their way up to Jerusalem, James and John had asked Jesus for special seats of honor in His kingdom, which provoked the other disciples to jealousy. Jesus had to stifle their quarreling by pointing to a little child as the example of humility and faith. He had to rebuke them.
Now they’ve come to Jerusalem, and they arrive at the upper room where they will celebrate the Passover. The owner of the house knew that Jesus didn’t want to be disturbed in His time with His disciples, so the owner hadn’t provided a household slave to wash their feet when they came in, as was the custom. Instead, he had set the pitcher, the basin, and the towel, neatly folded, by the door of the upper room. The apostles had filed past it, and each of them had glanced at the pitcher, the basin, and the towel, and then looked away. They all wandered in and took their seats at the table. None of them were going to wash feet. Are you kidding me? That was the job for the absolute lowest slave on the totem pole in the entire house. None of them wanted to do that. So they recline at the table for the Passover meal. The meal goes on, and still none of them wants to wash the feet. In fact, some of them start pointing out others in the group – “hey, you wash them.” “Me? No, I shouldn’t do it – he should. Here’s why” – and pretty soon they’re bickering about who’s the greatest among them. Nobody is willing to volunteer and draw the short straw and wash the feet.
Finally, part way through the meal – long past the time that the feet normally were washed – Jesus stands up. St. John lets us see what He was thinking in those moments. “Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father…He knew that the Father had put all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus was always conscious of His divine origins and His heavenly mission. He was true God and He knew it, begotten of the Father and yet one God with Him, the Firstborn over all creation. If anybody in that upper room had the right to stay seated and not wash feet, it was Him.
Add to that what Jesus knew was coming in just a few hours. The Father had put all things into His hands, which included everything having to do with His betrayal, arrest, and execution. Jesus knew exactly what was in store for Him – the worst fate anyone could suffer, let alone Him, true God! Jesus was looking forward to His last, greatest struggle to the death – and He knew He was going to lose. Like an athlete the night before a big game, Jesus could have sat back and saved His strength for the ordeal to come. He could have just let this moment pass, or ordered one of the others to wash the feet. But He doesn’t do that.
If I were in that same situation – if I knew I was true God and had all things in my hands – I’d probably seize all the evil people in the world and bring them to justice. I’d help those that nobody else spoke up for. I’d end war and hunger and loneliness. I’d make peace between nations. I know I wouldn’t do what Jesus does next.
He stands up and takes off His outer clothing. He wraps the rough towel around His waist, and He pours water into the basin. Then He walks over to the disciple closest to Him, which was probably St. John himself, and kneels down. He dips one stinky foot in the water and rinses the dust and grime off of it. Then He washes the other foot. Then He moves on to the next disciple. He goes around the entire table that way. The disciples stop chattering as they watch Him work. As He washes the feet of each disciple, shame seals their lips. Their Master is doing what none of them wanted to do. Soon the only sounds in the room are the rhythmic dripping and splashing of the water in the basin, and the soft rustling sounds of the towel as He dries their feet.
What’s most striking about Jesus’ actions here is the way He does them. He is completely humble and unassuming. He doesn’t draw any attention to Himself. He doesn’t sigh, scowl, or mutter under His breath. He doesn’t pretend to hem and haw back and forth before agreeing in exasperation to be the one to wash the feet. He simply sees the need, grabs the basin and the towel, and gets started — even though He was the absolute last person in that upper room who should have been washing feet. Jesus doesn’t let that stop Him. Really, the way He did it was as important as what He did.
And Jesus doesn’t let the fact that nobody there deserved to have Him serve them stop Him. He even washed Judas’ feet. Christ washed the feet of the man who was going to betray Him to death at the first opportunity. If that’s not real love, the kind that doesn’t ask if the other person deserves it and honestly doesn’t care, I don’t know what is. Jesus didn’t hold off on serving in the upper room because He was waiting for some opportunity for a grand gesture. He didn’t tell Himself that He would serve others, if only He found the right people to serve. No, He looked at those right around Him – the people He saw every day – and He picked up the towel. How different than us He is! We’re more like Simon Peter.
Jesus gets to Simon Peter, and Peter of course can’t keep his mouth shut. He has no filter, so what he’s thinking comes bursting out of his mouth: “Lord, You’re going to wash my feet?!” His eyes are practically standing out of his head and he’s about to pop a vein in his neck. Jesus softly replies, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter won’t stand for this. He wasn’t going to wash feet, but then neither should his Lord, he thinks. “You will never, ever under any conditions wash my feet – ever!” His words are vehement and violent.
Have you ever noticed how good Peter is at telling Jesus what to do? Before this he’d tried to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem to die and rise again, and Jesus had to say, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Here he’s doing it again. He’s trying to tell Jesus what to do. That reminds me of a lot of people I know, starting with the one I see in the mirror. Each of us is great at telling other people what they’re not doing and they should be. Each of us is an expert at noting exactly where everybody else is falling down in their duties – but we never turn that same eye for others’ negligence on ourselves. We all want other people to skip to our lou, to listen and obey when we open our mouths, but we won’t stir ourselves to do something that’s beneath us. We all draw a fine line of “these are the things I will do” and “these are the things that are beneath me.” Usually that line is slanted so others should be doing more for us. If it’s on the list of things we don’t want to do, or we think it’s not our job to do something, forget it.
If that’s you – and if you’re like me then I know it is – you need Jesus to wash you. Not just have Jesus kneel down in front of you, take your dirty sweaty foot in His hands that would soon have nails driven through them for you, and dip your foot in the bowl. You need more than that, because this is no mere dirt on your feet that’s staining you. It’s the sin of selfish pride living in your heart. For that, you need a different washing. Brothers and sisters: Repent. Repent of your self-serving ways and your hard heart. Repent of your refusal to serve your fellow man, and you will be clean – because that’s what Jesus promises. The fact is, Jesus has already washed you. You are already clean because He has washed you in baptism. He has cleansed your sinful heart and made you His own. Now you need only to wash your feet and you will be clean.
His love for you and me, unworthy though we are, is what guarantees your forgiveness. This is the total picture of love here. In the upper room, with a towel around His waist, kneeling on the floor, Jesus does something that He doesn’t even do on Good Friday. He does something He doesn’t do for the Roman centurions or the Pharisees or the mobs howling for His blood. Sure, He was going to let them open His veins and do all they wished to Him, starting in a few hours, but nobody but Jesus’ followers get this: to have God kneel down in front of them, instead of them in front of Him, and to have God wash their feet. Out of all the things Jesus could have done with His final hours or had them do for Him in His final hours, He chooses this – to do what nobody else wants to do. This was for us.
And if this isn’t enough – if His life of love and His death on the cross for your sins and His unhesitating sacrifice of Himself isn’t enough – He’s left you a legacy that you can partake of tonight. He continues to stoop down in service to you tonight, as you come to His altar and partake of the holy Meal He instituted on this, the night He was betrayed. You can come and taste His love for you – the same love that washed feet, heals the sick, and comforts the downcast, that answers your prayers and forgives your sins. It’s here, tonight, for you.
Now what will your legacy be as a follower of Jesus the Savior? Think about the people around you every day. Children at our church need Sunday school teachers. Your own children need someone to provide for them and care for them and teach them God’s Word. Your parents need someone to love them enough to do for them what they used to do for you. Your coworkers need someone to cheer them up and encourage them and share God’s Word with them – even if they’re not Christian. Your friends need someone who will tell them God’s truth, even when it hurts. Your spouse needs someone who will support them and not try and score points on them. People you know, Christian or not, ones you know very well and ones you barely know, need prayers so God can help them. What will you do? Will you think, “That’s not my job,” and wait for someone to serve you? Or will you just start doing what needs to be done without asking, “What’s in it for me?” Let Jesus’ question echo through your mind and soul: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” and let the answer be in the way you live – and that will be Jesus’ legacy through you. Amen.