Scripture: John 13
*Audio available at the bottom of the page*
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
~ John 13:1
Before becoming a father, it is unlikely that you would have ever got me excited at the prospect of feeding time or bath time for an infant. The idea of trying to force a young child to try food that they are not going to like, or to subject an infant to the potential for screaming and torture of a bath. Obviously some children love food and others love baths, but as a young parent-to-be that certainly wasn’t my expectation!
But in all honesty feeding and bathing my girls when they were infants were incredible bonding experiences, moments of parental intimacy with these two children who had entered into the world, and I was just getting to know.
Meal times and washing are inherently intimate experiences no matter what age you are.
When you gather around a table (rather than a television set, or a fast food counter) with friends and family to a meal there is shared space, shared experiences, shared words, shared food. The boundaries between us are broken down, our relationships are deepened – if we only pause long enough to see it happen.
The same is true when we wash someone else, there is vulnerability in the gentle touches and the water washing over skin, tenderness and care that is shown when we take the time bathe another. This is true for both the one washing and the one being washed.
This intimacy and vulnerability is the setting Jesus chooses for his last night before the cross. He chooses two incredible acts of intimacy with his disciples – a common meal and the act of washing feet – even with Judas the one who Jesus knew full well was going to betray him.
Throughout the whole of his Gospel, John goes to great lengths to show that Jesus is fully God and fully human, and this passage we heard tonight is no exception.
We are told that Jesus knew everything had been put into his hands, that he was from God and was going to God. There are echoes here of the beautiful prelude in John 1, where we are told that Jesus is the Word of God, who came from God and through whom all things were made.
The Jesus we meet tonight is most definitely God.
And yet these very same hands of Jesus the Son of God, who took part in the creation of the world, who helped to form the primordial chaos into life as we know it, these very same hands that God had put everything into – are also the very same hands which caress and tenderly wash the weathered, worn and filthy feet of the disciples. They are the very same hands which broke the bread and blessed the wine, which shared food and drink with friends.
The Jesus we meet in the washing of feet and the breaking of bread is most definitely human.
Tonight as we remember and celebrate the last supper, Jesus’ command which we recall each and every time we gather at this table Sunday after Sunday we are shown what it means to be fully human, but also what it means to participate fully in the life of God.
Tonight as we recall Jesus stooping to his knees, cleansing the feet of his disciples, offering refreshment and tender love and care we are shown what it means to be fully human and what it means to participate fully in the life of God.
Jesus in the act of washing his disciples’ feet and breaking bread with them makes sacred the most intimate human acts. He points us to the simple fact that in love and service we participate in the life of God. He shows us that as we tenderly care for others and willingly receive care from others we are given a glimpse of the face of God, a window is opened up in the face of the other that gives us a taste of the life that God intended for us and for the whole world all along.
Undoubtedly we can get in the way, we like Peter in our story can miss the point and be uncomfortable giving or receiving the intimate care and affection. We do not often pause and take time to give and receive tender care these days, everything is about efficiency, maximizing our time and our energy so that we are as productive as possible.
Meals are not lingered over, they only serve the purpose to feed us and get us the nutrients needed or our bodies to survive, but not for our souls to thrive. We do not give ourselves the chance for intimate personal moments with our friends and family with our fast paced eating, on the go, or when attention is given to our phones or television sets.
Service to others is a duty to be done because it’s the right thing to do or to make us feel better or less guilty and not an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with those we are serving or being served by.
But then like Peter would have when he initially refused to be washed by Jesus – an act he saw as too intimate and degrading for his teacher and Lord – we miss out; we miss out on the life that Jesus wants for us, we miss out on what it means to be fully human, living the divine life that God intended from the very beginning, before sin, death and brokenness got in the way.
Jesus points us to the fact that the fullness of God’s life and the fullness of our human lives meet in the love we give and receive to one another; in the intimate acts of service and affection we share with one another; in the sitting down and lingering at a meal; in the washing and feeding of a newborn child or an infirm adult; in the help we give to others, but also the help we receive from others.
There is no room for pride and arrogance, in the new life that Jesus extends to those who would follow him. None of us are too good to offer care and affection, and certainly none of us are too good to receive – because that is ultimately what it means to be human and to follow Jesus as Lord.
Jesus concludes our passage this evening by giving his disciples a new commandment (though really it’s as old as the commandment to love God and neighbour from Leviticus!), to love one another just as he had loved them.
In the washing of feet and the breaking of bread Jesus had embodied this love for his disciples, he has revealed the very human face of the love that they were called to: the intimate friendship and care, the giving up oneself in service of others that would signal to the world the presence of Jesus.
As Jesus prepared to perfectly embody the love God has for us and for the world on the cross the next day; as he prepared to show the world the love of God that would go to the greatest lengths imaginable to return us to right relationship – he called his disciples to do likewise.
He calls us to do likewise.
He calls us to give up our lives for the sake of others.
To give up our selfishness. To give up our need to be right. To give up the ways we have always done things. To give up our grievances and even our wants. So that others might have life, so that others might flourish and grow in the love and grace of God.
And a funny thing happens when we all do this: we are all cared for, we are all served, just as we all seek to serve and love one another.
Each of us are invited into the intimacy of friendship with our saviour Jesus, but also one another. May we take up his new commandment today and every day following him to the Cross so we might share with him in his Resurrection
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