Title: A Protest of Hope
Date: March 20, 2008: Maundy Thursday
Texts: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as their king, “Blessed is the king of Israel” (John 12:13). And a few days later, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus is in the valley of darkness. Later this night, he will be arrested and his procession to the cross will begin.
The disciples and Jesus meet under the cover of darkness, in secrecy. We learn in chapter 12 that Jesus is in hiding—“Jesus left and hid himself” (v.36). But at the end of the meal, Judas Iscariot will wander into the night to reveal Jesus’ hiding place to the Roman and Jewish authorities. Jesus dwells in the tension, at the edge of death.
It is night, darkness everywhere. In John 12 Jesus said that the night was coming soon: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you” (v.35). Now, on Maundy Thursday, there is no more light. It’s too late for hope. Darkness surrounds Jesus and his followers. It’s actually worse than that—with Judas at the table, the night has already pierced the center of Jesus’ kingdom of light. It’s only a matter of time before the last bit of hope flickers and dies.
Jesus could have saved himself. He could have retreated from the darkness in Jerusalem to safer territory. He could have returned to a village and made plans for victory among friends, away from Jerusalem’s forces of death. Feeling the encroaching darkness, Jesus could have discerned that now wasn’t the right time, better to go back to where he came from and start all over, find more followers, amass more supporters.
Instead, Jesus waits; he sits there; he eats. John says, “Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel” (13:3-5). Jesus offers no strategies for success; no escape plans; no rallying cries for a last stand; no solutions.
Jesus interrupts the meal, strips down to servant’s clothes, takes a basin and pitcher, circles the table, bowing down to the ground, taking each of his disciple’s feet in his hands, pouring water, drying them.
When night falls, when evil is about to triumph, Jesus washes feet; Jesus serves; Jesus pours out his love with that pitcher. He even washes the feet of Judas, who uses those same feet to run into the night and hand Jesus over to his killers. Jesus loves even his enemy, the betrayer.
Night has fallen upon us. It’s in our neighborhoods, even the safe ones. Night has claimed our family and friends. If the triumph of evil hasn’t happened already, it feels like it will happen tomorrow. What are we supposed to do? Well, we wash feet. We learn the movements of a servant, of a slave. We kneel and bow our bodies before one another. We learn what it feels like to pour out our lives in love, with a pitcher—generously flowing water.
When the last bit of hope is about to die, what do we do? Well, we let someone wash our feet. We don’t do anything. We sit there. It’s a useless activity. It’s an uncomfortable and unnecessary pause. We can easily wash our own feet—some of us probably already have before we came. But here we learn how to receive love. We learn how to let go of ourselves, to let someone take our bare feet—dirty, vulnerable, maybe even funny-looking in our own eyes.
Being loved, receiving love, takes work. Pausing, waiting, letting go—it’s hard work. But it’s blessed work because with those hands, with that water, with that bowed body, comes the love of God, Christ’s love poured out for the world, poured out for you.
When the night falls, when hope dies out, we practice foot washing. We create spaces where the love of God may flow into our worlds—into our feet and through our hands. Foot-washing is our protest of hope, that Christ’s love is still here, available, where we walk with our feet and where we serve with our hands. What we are doing tonight, and the way it overflows into the rest of our lives, is how proclaim the good news of John’s gospel: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5).
Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:34-35).
So, let us love one another, that we may receive the love of Christ.