A Sacrament of Love

March 28, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Sermon on John 13:1-17, 31b-35, given while serving as Deacon & Seminarian

Maundy Thursday 

Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & John 13:1-17, 31b-35

When I was young, I used to go over to my Grandma Caldwell’s house, my mom’s mom, to spend the night. She and I would spend time together baking cookies or gingerbread. In the morning we’d often listen to Bible-quiz shows on the radio – having grown up Baptist, she knew a lot of the answers. As I got a little older, she’d play Elvis Presley records on the stereo… I think it was his gospel music that hooked her, but I preferred dancing around her small living room singing “Blue Suede Shoes.”Grandma Caldwell

Now, Grandma Caldwell didn’t drive a car, so when we needed to get something for our latest recipe, we’d walk to a nearby store. I don’t think Grandma did a lot of walking, considering she was in her seventies, but the walking she did do, took a toll on her feet. So, it wasn’t uncommon as she was lying down to take a nap (which she invariably needed during my visits), she’d ask me to rub alcohol on her feet, and I was happy to do it.

Grandma would be the first to admit that she didn’t have pretty feet, but she didn’t apologize for it. She was grateful that they served her well, even with the bunions and a few overlapping toes. Instead of hiding her imperfect feet, she found ways, like the alcohol rub, to care for them. I remember that the cold alcohol made her flinch a little at first and then she’d relax as the comforting foot massage helped her drift off to sleep.

Grandma has been gone over thirty-five years now, and although the foot rubs probably aren’t something she would expect me to remember, it’s one of many fond memories of our times together; moments of intimacy and connectedness unique to particularly close relationships.

In today’s gospel we see a similar moment of intimacy shared between Jesus and his disciples. At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry has ended and he is in a private place with his disciples, in Jerusalem near the time of the Passover Festival.

Jesus knows that his time in this world is growing short. He wants to make sure that he has shared the message of God with his disciples. Just before today’s passage, Jesus had gone off on his own for a while. Perhaps during that time he pondered what he could do differently, something memorable, that would convey in one act God’s message of love, so it wouldn’t be forgotten, even when Jesus was no longer with them.

And so, although we find them in a familiar setting… sitting down to a meal together, John’s Gospel doesn’t provide the familiar Eucharistic words: “This is my Body, take and eat it in remembrance of me” that we see in the other gospels.

But what we see Jesus do in John’s Gospel is no less sacramental.

As they were about to share their meal together, Jesus gets up from his place at the table, removes his outer robe, wraps a towel around himself and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus, their master, the one they have seen teaching and healing people on the road to Jerusalem, is now kneeling down on the hard ground in front of them. One by one, he takes the road-weary feet of each of his disciples. In his hands, he gently holds the dirty, calloused, imperfect feet. He pours water over them, and wipes off the dust and grime with a towel.

When he gets to Peter, Peter tries to protest. But Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  His words remind us of the importance of Baptism – the sacrament of initiation that is a sign of our sharing in God through Christ.

By allowing his feet to be washed by Jesus, Peter experiences Jesus, is united with Jesus, and through him, with God, in a deeper way. This foot-washing provides a level of intimacy and is sacramental: it’s an outward sign of receiving God’s love into our hearts – being made clean; refreshed and restored.

And we see that this gift of love from God is not reserved for only those who are perfect. Jesus kneels down and washes the feet of the one that he knows will deny him. Jesus serves and shares God’s love with the one that he knows will betray him. This gift of love from God is freely given to all people. All are worthy to receive this gift, you only have to be willing to receive it; to accept the abiding love of God.

After washing their feet, Jesus asks if they understand what he has done to them, explaining,

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… 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.

A few verses later, Jesus gives God’s new commandment “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Adding that it is this love that will be the way people will know them as his disciples. It isn’t the Ashes on our forehead, or the cross around our neck that shows us as followers of Christ. The only true evidence of being a disciple is “if you have love for one another.”

footwashing

From: specialgathering.wordpress.com

So, even imperfect ourselves, having received God’s love through the messenger who is Jesus Christ, we show our gratitude by following that example; sharing God’s love with others. Even with those who we know will deny us; even with those who may betray us.

There is nothing that disqualifies a person from receiving God’s love through us. We will take the imperfect feet of each child of God, into our own imperfect hands, and we will wash them. Through this sacrament, we embody God’s perfect gift of love.

I’d like to close with a few lines from a song by folk singer, Beth Nielsen Chapman, called “How We Love.” It conveys a similar message – that in the end, all that people will remember about us, is how we loved.

Sometimes we forget,

Trying to be so strong

In this world of right and wrong,

All that matters when we’ve gone

All that mattered all along,

All we have that carries on,

Is how we love

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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