John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live. I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight we will understand why this is true.
Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples.
Exodus 12:1-14/Psalm 116:1, 10-17/1 Corinthians 11:23-26/John 13:1-17, 31b-35
This evening we enter the highly charged atmosphere of the great three days, the culmination of our year: the Triduum. We celebrate events that have changed the history of the world and now change us. Today is “Maundy Thursday”: “Maundy”, from Latin “mandatum”, mandate or commandment. We hear the new commandment from the lips of Jesus, the “mandatum novum”: “love one another”.
His words come in the midst of a tense and complicated drama: a final meal together, conspiracy and betrayal, some unsettling words about body broken and blood poured out, a disciple reclining in the bosom of Jesus*, a puzzling ritual of a kind of baptism of feet, agony in a garden, an arrest, a trial…
“Love one another as I have loved you.” At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches that our life is all about love. Jesus teaches with many words in a long speech and most powerfully in two actions.
He shows love made visible, edible, and tactile in washing feet and breaking bread. Love touching deeply, feet first.
Feet are sensitive subjects. We tend to adorn and display our feet or to hide them. Feet may reveal privilege and pampering, may be a source of pride. A wound to our feet can debilitate the body, while warmth or a massage for them can soothe the whole person. Feet are often embarrassing: battered, unkempt, unsightly. They bear our weight. They get very dirty and stink.
Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
As you know, during the year we welcome literally hundreds of guests at Emery House. They come from all over. Many come from some sort of religious background, but not all. Some come because it is their practice, others because they are curious. Some are drawn; others are sent. Some come for the quiet and silence, others for rest and healing conversation. A few find out about us from the internet and others are sent by a friend or their parish priest, while others have been long time friends of the Society. Most come to us by car, but some will fly long distances and arrive ultimately by bus.
Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116 1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
As you can imagine, incorporation into a monastic community is no easy thing. When a man comes into our community, suddenly everything, and I mean everything, is new and strange. The place is new and strange. The ways things are done are new and strange. And the people … well enough said about the people. One thing that is quickly evident is that every household and community has its quirks and monastic communities no less so than others. Sometimes those quirks are on full display for everyone to see, but on occasion those quirks are evident only to those “in the know” and are revealed to others only over time. Few of those sorts of quirks can be explained. Most of them must be intuited. And that is where the monastic rubber hits the road. Over time, a man either “gets it” and begins to fit in, and feels as if he fits in, or he doesn’t “get it” and never quite fits.
Tonight we have one of those community quirks on full display for everyone to see, and we either “get it” or we don’t. But there is a twist tonight, for unusually all the disciples “get it” this time, and most of us, even with hindsight don’t. We miss the enormous significance of what is taking place before our very eyes.
a sermon based on John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once suggested the following definition for the word “vocation.” A vocation, he said, is “a purpose for being in the world that is related to the purposes of God.”
There can be no doubt that Jesus had a deep sense of vocation, a sense that his purpose for being in the world was directly related to the purposes of God. Again and again, he repeats the claim that he has been sent into the world by the Father – not to do his own will, but God’s will; not to accomplish his own purposes, but God’s purposes. The words that he speaks and the deeds of power that he does are signs of God’s light and life breaking into the world. He knows the Father and has come to reveal the Father’s will to those who believe, so that they may have power to live as “children of God.” He has come to “lay down his life” in order that they might have “eternal life.” He has come, not to be served, but to serve.