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|April 1, 2010 -- Maundy (Holy) Thursday
-- Service Guide
Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (vs. 8)
Jesus desired to eat the Passover and institute his Supper behind closed doors, that is alone. The upper room was reserved, the utensils and food were made ready by the staff at the Inn, but without waiters and attendants. If privacy was what they wanted, and it was - Jesus and his disciples would have to fend for themselves. This would include also any washing up that would need to be done. It usually was needed. The roads were largely dirt - and very powdery from being dry and well trod. Just a short journey would usually render one’s feet, ankles and calves quite caked with road soot. At finer inns, a stationed door servant customarily would wash the feet and ankles of guests who would enter for a meal - a touch of class and civility in the ancient middle eastern world.
As Jesus and his disciples entered the upper room for their Passover Meal celebration, the commode with large bowl, towels and pitcher of water were there in waiting - but, as privacy was desired, minus the attendant. But then a most startling thing happens. After all are seated, Jesus suddenly gets up, goes over to the commode, wraps one of the towels around his waist, pours out some of the water into the basin and proceeds to go down the line washing the feet of his disciples seated at the table. When Jesus finally comes to wash Peter’s feet, he freaks out demanding that Jesus stop right there. He tells Jesus that he would never allow such a thing.
What are we to make of Peter’s protest? Clearly he is embarrassed by Jesus behavior and clearly he is embarrassed for himself. Yes! He is embarrassed for himself. Notice what Peter did not do or say. He did not jump up and say, Lord, please sit down - I’ll do it. Peter’s embarrassment was not for Jesus but for himself. He could not stomach Jesus - the one he wanted to recognize as his Lord, or as he confessed at Caesarea Philippi, the Christ, the Son of the living God - stooping to take on some lowly dirty business that he himself would not do. And yet for Peter, his disciples in the upper room, and for us this Holy Thursday evening; the dirty business that Jesus takes on this night is precisely what we need to understand and appreciate. And it is of two sorts -ordinary and extra-ordinary. In His washing of the feet of his disciples, Jesus presents an object lesson in Christian vocation. He instructs that we call Him Lord and so He is. And we know, of course, what that makes us - we are the servants, or a more accurate word, slaves. And he reminds us with Peter, that the slave is never above the master. Therefore, if he has washed the disciples feet, we ought to wash the feet of one another, in our service to the Lord. Jesus is here schooling us in how we are to serve Jesus as Lord. It will be through our neighbor.
But notice what Jesus provides as an example of the kind of work that serves our Lord through our neighbor? It is taking care of our neighbor’s soiled condition - like washing his dirty feet! Can you imagine that? When we want to know about the great works we can be about in the Kingdom of God, Jesus grabs a towel and basin and gets to scrubbing dirty feet! This is what grossed Peter out! How would you feel if you were Peter? . . . .Wouldn’t the modern counterpart to foot-washing be something like doing the lowly domestic task of weekly laundry around the house? Who performs this chore in your house? Imagine what doing the laundry means according to what Jesus is saying here. When you throw in the soiled clothes, right down to the dirty socks - when the bleach and fabric softeners go in - the angels in Heaven are ecstatic with joy over as the epitome of a good work is being performed at your house . . .and perhaps, by you? The ordinary dirty business of life - this is what Jesus engages in to teach us about the nature of works that serve our Lord by serving our neighbor, yes, even members of our family. They are common, they are mundane, non-believers do them also . . .and they meet needs that arise from daily life.
But, Jesus has reserved for Himself the extra-ordinary dirty business of cleaning up our soiled souls and spirits made fowl and filthy by the ravages of sin. Unless He accomplishes this dirty business for us, we can have nothing to do with Him. The words he spoke to Peter must be understood as applying also to us: If I do not wash you, you have no part in me. This statement points to a cleansing from all unrighteousness that will come from His offered body and poured out blood. Indeed, it is the precious blood of Jesus which cleanses all of us from unrighteousness. This is the extra-ordinary dirty business that Jesus will be accomplishing shortly on the cross. Dirty business indeed. He who knew no sin, will become sin for us. He will die a wretched, dirty criminal’s death - that we might be cleaned up for life - life forever with our God. And about this business, Jesus gave no object lesson to Peter and his disciples that evening, and he gives no object lesson to us tonight. He does, however, beckon all of us to come to the table and be partakers of a testament in His body and blood that will be bequeathed to us from his sacrificial death on the cross. This is the cross which we are also nailed to our baptism bringing a washing of regeneration and a cleansing from all unrighteousness. Here we receive the strong stuff that prompted the Psalmist to assure us that as our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Or, to put it another way in the vision of St. John, our spiritual robes will be washed and whitened in the blood of the lamb. This is no surface cleansing that comes from cleaning up your act - this is a depth cleansing of the soul where new life is given.
Ordinary dirty business and extra-ordinary dirty business. Both were on the agenda of our Lord there in the upper room that first Holy Thursday evening. The ordinary dirty business of helping to clean up the temporal lives of our neighbor - distributing blessings from God in countless mundane day-in and day-out ways. This is how faith goes to work in life - foot-washing our way to glory - fabric softener and all. It is most ordinary before the eyes of the world but most precious in the sight our Lord and his Heavenly hosts. Believe it! Do it!
But, then there is the extra-ordinary dirty business that Jesus takes to Himself and sets into motion this evening. These are the saving events which offer his body and precious blood on Calvary’s cross that we poor sinners might be cleansed of all unrighteous, forever. This work, Jesus does not delegate - he does not distribute it to his disciples or to us. It is his cup and it will not pass from Him. Being obedient to the Father in all things given to Him, He takes to Himself that singular vocational office of Savior given to specially to Him. Here we are not doers - but spectators of the cross and partakers tonight of a Holy Meal that beings immortality. Here tonight, Christ has come to our upper room to be both our host and our sustenance - offering us his very body and blood, given and shed for us, by which we have been cleaned up for eternity and made fit forever for His Kingdom. From the cross to baptism to this Holy Meal - our Lord has taken to himself the extra-ordinary dirty business of cleaning up our sinful lives. Yes, He ate his Last Supper of Passover with his disciples that night. But the real significance for us that night is that He instituted with them the first eating of His Holy Supper which He continues to serve us in His Church here on earth until we eat with Him at the Great Feast to come. And about this meal, having got our lessons about our ordinary business and His extra-ordinary dirty business . . . now here - presumably with clean feet and clean laundry - our Host now bids us, come to the table of the Lord, for all things are prepared for Him to clean your souls with body and blood.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. A-men!