John 13: 1-17, 31b-38
Have you ever said, ‘I have a thing about feet’. Well, so what. We all do. Our feet are these weird little appendages dangling off of our ankles. Sometimes they ache and sometimes they stink, but they do get us to where we want to go or where we need to be so this ‘thing about feet’ we should be bronzing them after our passing. Our feet are essential to the journey. And yeah, they will get dirty and will be in need of washing, maybe even a good scrubbing. So sometimes we need to get past our ‘things’ in order to do what Christ asks of us in order to follow him. We can’t wash another person’s foot unless we humble our own feet to be washed.
I can only imagine how it might have been that night in Jerusalem. The bustle of the city of gold has quieted down and the merchants, well they closed up shop early for Passover. The Paschal moon shone brightly in the sky much like it did on Monday night of this week. Across in the valley the donkeys had stopped their grazing and their eyes getting closer to sleep with each lengthening blink. The hot and dry breeze from the day had cooled down a bit as it wafted through the open windows of the upper room where Jesus gathered his disciples.
And as they were eating their meal Jesus quietly gets up from the table and wraps a soft towel around his waist. An anxious hush falls over the room and the disciples begin to eat a little slower maybe looking up or looking at one another as they wonder what in the world he is doing. You know that kind of look that you give someone else when you are not quite sure what is happening. Perhaps you knit your brow in a quizzical way. And then Jesus drops to his knees and all you can see is his bended head and shoulders.
Well you can hear the wrestling of their robes as they turn towards Jesus when he comes to them and kneels at their feet. The water splashes against the sides of the basin and he dips in the washrag and wrings it out. He goes from one disciple to the next washing each foot and then carefully drying them. All of them, Simon Peter the denyer, even Judas Iscariot the betrayer are cleansed. Jesus leaves no one out. And when he was finished he gave them a cup of wine and some bread and asks that they remember him. He gives them a new commandment also, and that is to love one another. Just as he love us we are to love one another.
Out of all the things he could have been doing that night in preparation for his death, you know the ‘getting things in order’ sorts of things, he chose to be with his dearest and most trusted friends and to wash their feet, he chose to show them his deepest and most intimate love through this one act even though he knew that a few of them would not be there with him until the end. That didn’t matter to Jesus.
So this night really was a night of selfless love and of how Jesus emptied himself once again and revealed his humanity. I have only had my feet washed once and I have washed the feet of a Nigerian priest, only once. It was a humbling experience. The others in the room were silent and all you could hear was the splashing of the water in the bowl. You take another person’s well-worn foot in your hand that person’s life and journey really, and pour life-giving water over it, rub it a bit and then dry their foot with a dry towel. It is an act of great humility and oflove because who really wants to touch another persons feet? It’s one that we will not do tonight so calm those jittery butterflies and crazy thoughts in your head. Tonight we’ll just talk about the act of foot washing.
Foot washing? Well this challenges our Western sensitivities doesn’t it? Because in this self-centered society, where individualism is a primary focus, to put others first is not our MO. We seek to satisfy ourselves first in order that we can serve others. But actually foot washing is counterintuitive as most of Christianity is. We wash the feet of others so that we might be able to follow Jesus.
Foot washing is an act of intimacy because when we take off our shoes and our socks we are vulnerable. Most of our feet are sweaty and pungent and so to bear our feet we show our real selves, unbridled. We are vulnerable; our imperfections are hanging out all over, our warts, our bunions, our corns. We all are imperfect, and we all are exposed. And yet, foot washing is transformative and proclaims the power of cleansing, the power of redemption, and the power of acceptance.
For Jesus the act of foot washing for Jesus is a manifestation of his unbounded love for his disciples and for us too. This scripture reminds you to let him touch and see our innermost vulnerabilities. How will he know how to heal if you don’t offer your fell self to him, feet included? This scripture reminds us that Christ comes to us on bended knee, willing to love us just as we are, drenching us with water poured and the blessing of life.
Amen. Let it be so.