Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021
Jesus often spoke about being humble. Here is an example from the gospel of Matthew, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted”. Being exalted means to be held in high regard while being humble means that you demonstrate a modest or low estimate of your own importance.
Jesus also told us that we should be servants. Do you remember when the apostles argued about which one was the greatest and Jesus said, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus didn’t just talk about being humble and being servant, he demonstrated these traits through his actions. Jesus ate with sinners, he cured the sick, he forgave those who had sinned. He gave his life for us.
Our gospel passage this evening is another example of exactly what Jesus meant when he said be a servant of others. Normally, it was the servant who cleaned the feet of the guests before dinner. At that time, it was a way to show the importance of the guest and a way to demonstrate hospitality. Jesus reversed the roles. It should have been his feet that were cleaned by others, but he gave them a new way by wiping the feet of all of his apostles. Peter, the outspoken one, questioned why he would do this and Jesus told him and through him he told us that if we don’t allow others to serve us then we have no place in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus also told the disciples that we should wash each other’s feet. In response to his command we usually include a foot washing as part of this service.
I have chosen not to have a foot washing this evening as we continue to do everything we can to keep people safe. Even though we won’t be foot washing for others, we can still reflect on the importance of the act. As I mentioned, it is a good way to show humility and a good way to be a servant. I have also learned that it is one way to build a loving community.
In the washing of the feet, we extend the idea of humility to one of vulnerability. When we allow someone to wash our feet, we show them our flaws. They get to see our warts, our bunions, our corns, our disfigurement. When we wash the feet of another, we show them that we are less important than they, we admit we are less than perfect as well. When we show vulnerability, we encourage others to get to know us better and we create an environment of love. We show our love for others and we ask for their love as well.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, tells a story about foot washing. In 2015, Curry attended a meeting of the leaders of the Anglican communion at Canterbury Cathedral in England. The meeting came not long after Curry had been elected as our presiding bishop and shortly after the national convention in which the Episcopal Church approved same sex marriage. The Episcopal church is part of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide collection of churches including about 85 million people. The Anglican churches in many countries, especially Africa, were unhappy that the Americans had decided to approve same sex marriage. The meeting was contentious. One day, the attendees participated in a service of foot washing. The love that was reestablished as part of that foot washing created an environment that allowed for a resolution. The Episcopal Church was not allowed to participate in ecumenical and interfaith dialogues for three years. But the church would stay together, bound in love despite its differences. Keeping the Anglican communion together was important because of all the good work that is done by churches working together. Jesus expected his followers to create humble, loving communities dedicated to serving others. Jesus preached that we must love one another. Loving one another means that we humble ourselves and wash each other’s feet.
A commentator named Timothy J. Sandoval reminded me of a passage from Isaiah, ““How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’" (Isaiah 52:7). Tonight we see only the beautiful feet of all who are present. For everyone of us has been ordained by Jesus to share the good news about our savior. We have been commissioned to share God’s peace with everyone we come in contact with. I know that everyone here is humble. You have offered service to others before. This evening is a time when we commit ourselves again to continuing the work of Jesus in this world. Let us serve one another and let us go forth to serve the world. Amen.
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