It is interesting that the Church followed the story line of Matthew, Mark & Luke + Paul in the reading from his first letter to the Corinthian Christians when they established the core act of worship for the Church. So ever since the Church has gathered to break the bread and drink the wine as the principal metaphor of Christ’s continuing presence in the world.
Have you ever thought how things would have been different if instead the Church had cued on the Gospel reading from John? What if foot-washing had become our central Sacrament rather than communion. Think of all the glaring questions we could be debating:
- How to wash feet?
- Should they be immersed?
- Should they be sprinkled?
- Should the right or left foot come first?
- Who is authorized to wash feet?
- Can women’s feet be washed?
- Perhaps most importantly could women wash feet?
We laugh but are not similar arguments about Eucharist and Baptism in the same category? What is going on here? What is Jesus telling us?
During Supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around him. The word, “took off” or literally laid down is the same word the Jesus used when he spoke of laying down his life. When he took up his clothing again it is the same word as taking up his life again. There seems to be a connection between the foot washing and the death/resurrection of the Lord.
This is what Paul was speaking to in the Epistle to the Philippians last Sunday when he remarked that equality with God was not something that Jesus exploited but humbled himself taking the form of a servant. I will not go into all the discussion of Greek thought which that represents but let me say that Paul is saying that servant-hood and glory are each genuine expressions of who God IS! Taking the towel is taking the role of servant.
People walked everywhere and so feet got dusty when you arrived at your destination. Each house had a pitcher of water and basin + towels provided for people to wash their own feet. Mosaic Law provided that Jewish servants did not have to perform such menial tasks. Jesus makes the point that for God nothing is menial. The very core of our understanding our understanding of God is that He is self-giving.
So Jesus did for his disciples what they were not willing to do for each other and to those beyond the group. Not much has changed has it? Jesus is still more willing to reach out to us than we are to reach out to him and each other.
There is also an ancient tradition that the spirit enters and leaves us not through the head but through the “soles” (souls) of the feet. The pattern of whorls is the path of the wind of life as it entered and left the body. So there is a spiritual idea about feet — that we to which we pay little attention to may be of profound importance.
So tonight we hear the call of God. By our baptism we are to be servants to all that we encounter in the world. Servanthood begins in baptism and is acted out in worship tonight so that we may serve in the marketplace. There is really a profound connection between getting to know each other “hand to foot” that is terribly important.
To put aside our embarrassment at WASHING feet and having OUR feet washed by someone else. Being embarrassed is not fatal. A South American priest has said, “Embarrassment is as close to suffering as most of us have ever been.
Tonight we remember just how much we really need each other. I am never more aware of that truth than when we bury our children. We need each other to be real. We are not perfect. We are not always wise. We are lonely – we are afraid – we long for people who will forgive us and love in spite of what we sometimes are and sometimes are not.
There is something about the washing of feet that breaks through all of our cosmetic differences and barriers. No one must do this, but I encourage you to stretch a little.
We are a blessed people. Remember that one is not blessed at the expense of others but for the sake of others. We bring food tonight for the hungry as Christians have been doing for hundreds of years. We are called to remember that human beings are more alike than they are different.
Parker Palmer defines grace as, “the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not?”
Tonight like our Lord, we also are called to lay aside our pride and our dignity, as he laid aside his life as a sign of our life in him. He came among humanity as a servant. Let us claim his name now act like him. There is something about getting to know people hand to foot that is transforming and liberating. Let us do for each other what he did for those with him that night.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.