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Maundy Thursday sermon

In my last parish where I served as youth minister, our Maundy Thursday service took place downstairs in the parish hall -- we ordered a bunch of greek food, opened all the double doors to the patio, and sat around these big tables eating dinner while we told the story of Jesus and his friends eating dinner.

And it was this sweet and casual intergenerational event, one year, as people were still gathering some of our youth had informally set up this manicure table where people were having their fingernails painted after I had, kind of impromptu painted the nails of one of our sweet older parishioners.

Well, dinner wraps and we clear the center of the room and set up the footwashing and staff and wardens are first up to set the example for the rest of the congregation. I get up to wash the feet of the senior warden, and a bottle of nail polish falls out of my pocket, skids across the parish hall tile floor and lands right at the basin of water. The whole room is silent, looking at this nail polish, and he looks at me, and I look at him, and he says [I didn't sign up for THAT] and the whole room just busts out laughing -- like wash my feet if you must but I draw the line at a pedicure.

Maundy Thursday is one of those days that holds a great amount of tension in it, not only because of the solemnity of holy week or because of the looming crucifixion, but because we wash one anothers' feet-- an act we are not asked in worship to take on at any other point in the year. Some people note though that the two great acts of the Last Supper were communion and footwashing and it would be easy to imagine a near parallel reality where the principal act of our Episcopal Sunday worship is not Eucharist but footwashing. That, I imagine, would make for a very different Christian life and a really quite different experience of our weekly worship.

This story is framed with the admittance that "Jesus knew his hour had come to depart from this world" and so this is his last act of instruction with his disciples. 

He says:

"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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."

It's easy to want to generalize too quickly with a passage like this: to say, well Jesus just means we ought to serve people. In this story, in this moment, with these people, with what's happened among them in the last 13 chapters of John, Jesus is not only saying serve people, he is looking at his best friends and saying "with care, draw close to these your friends, your co-laborers. draw close to them."

He's showing that this act of Christian life brought it's fullest expression from the manger in Bethlehem to the table and the basin in Jerusalem, is closeness, its vulnerability, it's intimacy with the people with whom with live and pray and serve. Discipleship finds its culmination and its rousing, in the closeness. This closeness at the footwashing basin and at the dinner table is both the conclusion of one chapter and the exposition of the next chapter. 

Writer Barbara Brown-Taylor says, of Jesus, that he did not leave his disciples -- he did not leave us -- with something or somethings to think about, he left us something to do. And in this service we hear and practice what he left for us. I think the thing about all this is that closeness to one another, proximity to one another is really quite equalizing -- up close we see that, we really are not all that different after all, you and I, are we. 

It's each of us being made in the image of God, it's the commandment to love our enemies and neighbors with the same passion with which we love ourselves,it's Jesus' incarnation to become like us and one of us and among us, it is this encouragement to come together at the table and the basin and know that the servant is not greater than the master nor is this teacher above his disciples. Up close, we are really not all that different, you and I, are we. 

All this to say, footwashing or not, figurative basin of water or literal basin of water, Maundy Thursday raises the question: What if Church was where we drew close to one another, friend and stranger alike? What if the greatest lessons to learn of the faith are lessons learned up close? Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

13:7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

13:8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."

13:9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

13:10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

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