Maundy Thursday, April 14, 2022

Maundy Thursday
April 14, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14a; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-7, 31b-35

From the Gospel according to John , “… I have set (an example before you), that you also should do as I have done to you.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

    Tonight we gather as a community of faith to commemorate our Lord’s final discourse with his disciples before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and we will re-enact Jesus’ own example of humility and servant leadership by washing one another’s feet. Two great moments are presented to us in this evening’s liturgy: foot washing and the Eucharist. And both are sacramental moments in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church. Both are inextricably tied to the other as examples of what it truly means to live and be as Christ in this world. And Jesus shows us that we can’t truly experience the grace of one without the other.

     Now, the Eucharist is the principal act of worship in the Episcopal Church and the center of our weekly Sunday gatherings. Yet, tonight, I cannot help but imagine what a different world this might be, what a different role model the Church could be for and to the whole world if the climax of every worship service was not our Communing together, but rather, the untying of shoes, the removal of socks, and the washing of feet. That would be quite a sight! But we’re not here tonight to suggest revisions to Episcopal Church practice. No, tonight, we are here to respond to our Lord’s humility, and to his invitation to live and be as Christ to one another and to the world.

     Picture, for a moment, being present with Jesus in that upper room. I wonder what did his friends think when, as John tells us, Jesus stood up, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself? I hear their inner voices asking, what are you up to Jesus? Then he pours water into a basin and begins to wash their feet and to wipe them with that same towel. Don’t do that Lord. My feet are so dirty. Perhaps, some remembered that day when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He shouldn’t have spoken to her because she was unclean. Jesus, why do you keep on serving the filthy, the unacceptable, those sinners and tax collectors? The Messiah is supposed to lead us into power, restore our Kingdom and our country, not grovel at our feet. Why are you doing this?  And Jesus just keeps on washing their feet.

    When he has finished, Jesus offers an answer to their silent questions. It is an answer that is so very hard for us to fully grasp let alone even imagine living every moment of every day. Jesus says, “… You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. 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 … (and) you are blessed if you do them.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I imagine quite a gasp rising from everyone’s mouth. What? You want us to what? Wash each other’s feet? We know that John is your favorite disciple, but have you taken a good look at his feet, Lord? They’re hideous!

     You know, one of common remarks made by those observing the Rites of Maundy Thursday for the first time is, “Wow. Jesus was such a nice guy, such a giving person, but I just don’t do feet so I’ll just watch tonight.”  Yet, “Jesus’ example isn’t about watching him put his hands on someone else’s feet. It is about letting Jesus put his hands on our feet.”[1] Not all of us are comfortable with that. And yet, that is what Jesus calls us, invites us, urges us to do not just tonight, but every day of our lives.

     See, if we don’t allow Jesus to wash our feet, then our Holy Week journey with him stops right here. Oh, the rest of this week will unfold around us, but we will only know its grace as mere spectators, as disengaged persons in a distant crowd. Jesus desires for us to know and experience every aspect of Holy Week in our hearts and minds so it changes our lives, changes who we are.

That’s why our Lord’s invitation goes even that much further and deeper. He invites us to this Supper as well. Invites us to this sacramental meal together, and to experience it not as distant spectators, but rather, as full participants. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s passion, a remembering of his own sacrifice. But it is more than a recollection of an absent, past, historic Jesus. In the Eucharist, we are invited to encounter Christ truly present with us in this moment, not the past. For us, this bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ – Christ’s body and blood are really given and really received. Thus, the Eucharist is an outward and visible sign of a spiritual grace, a spiritual moment within us. It is sacramental in every grace-filled sense of that word because, as the early church taught and emphasized, we believe that the real, honest to God presence of Christ is found in this sacrament. We believe these earthly substances of bread and wine are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ Not a chemical or scientific change, but a spiritual change. And yet while that change may only be spiritual in nature, its consequences arephysically real to us and within us. For through this meal, our souls are nourished, our unity with God and one another is restored, and we are sent forth to serve our Lord, sent forth in real, physical service to others, to wash the feet of the world.

     And in the combining of tonight’s Eucharist with foot washing, we are presented with the pattern of all Christian spirituality, of all Christian life: offering, blessing, breaking and sharing, washing and serving. Here, we are urged to offer our whole lives to God within the context of the redemptive offering of God’s Son. Just as our feet are presented - just as they are – calloused and with chipped or broken nails – so we come to this table and offer our selves just as we are - with calloused, chipped, or broken hearts, and our lives are laid open to the sanctifying, consecrating power of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are poured out in union with Christ for the life of the world.

    So, friends, I invite you to respond to our Lord’s invitation to come and be served, to come and be nourished, to come and be made whole. Allow Jesus to put his hands on your feet and wash them and, in so doing, wash you, wash us all.  Allow Jesus to feed your heart, our hearts, our souls, with his own body and blood. And then let us go forth to be Christ’s redeeming, washing, and serving presence in this world.

    Jesus said, “… I have set (an example before you), that you also should do as I have done to you.” May God help us so to do -  tonight and forever. Amen.  


[1] The Rev. Alyce McKenzie, Reflections on Maundy Thursday.