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Thu, Apr 18, 2019

Loved them until the end

Duration:51 mins 58 secs

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord-- and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Monday afternoon, there was breaking news around the world on televisions, the internet, and pop up alerts on cell phones. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was on fire. In the days since many have shared their thoughts on the devastation and whether the tragedy carries any particular kind of meaning or moral. We have seen pictures of the golden cross which still stands behind the altar in the sanctuary. The famous Rose Window and the cathedral organ are still intact. It is probably worth reflecting on why Notre Dame on fire was breaking news, but not the burning of historically African-American churches in Louisiana a few weeks ago. Also conversation has started about 1 billion dollars committed to rebuilding the cathedral and a similar, but much smaller, fundraising campaign for the churches in Louisiana. There are always questions about whether building buildings is the best use of a church’s money.
It was Monday evening that I saw a friend post on Twitter about the fire at Notre Dame, “This is a tragic and painful loss for Christendom,” he wrote. “I am wondering just how many Easter sermons are being written - or rewritten - in these flames …” My first thought was, “Who in the world has their Easter sermon already written on Monday of Holy Week?” However, my second thought brought me to this evening and this Homily. Not an Easter sermon, but Maundy Thursday and the juxtaposition between a grand cathedral and the simple supper that Jesus shared with his friends.
It is an odd pairing, at least in my mind. As the Gospel according to John tell us the story of this night, Jesus and his disciples have gathered for a meal before the Passover. It is the night of his arrest, the hour had come for him to depart from this world and go to the Father. Jesus knows this, but the disciples do not. All indications are this is just a normal dinner.
But then, during the supper, Jesus gets up from the table. He takes 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 to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
What a strange thing for Jesus to do. During the supper, like just after the soup and salad course while they are waiting for the entrée, Jesus gets up and starts washing his disciples’ feet. He has interrupted the meal. Why wasn’t this foot washing done before now?
First century Palestine was a dirty and dusty place. Everyone walked everywhere. So, typically a bowl of water and towel would be available by the door of a home and each person would wash their own feet upon entering. Those with greater means might have a servant perform this task on special occasions, like a dinner party with a traveling rabbi who has come to Jerusalem for the Passover. However, the host of a dinner would never stoop so low as to wash his guests’ feet. And certainly not once the meal has already begun. And yet, here is Jesus crawling around on the floor, half naked, with a bowl and a towel washing feet. Peter’s initial refusal, “You will never wash my feet!” reveals how shocking and uncomfortable this whole episode really is.
And even worse - when Jesus is finished, twenty-four feet bathed; even the feet of the one who would betray him, even the feet of the one who would deny him; the entrée course now getting cold on the table; Jesus commands his disciples to do likewise. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Now, my friends, we do not do a lot of foot washing in the church today, at least here at Reid Memorial. But we do care for one another in other ways. It might be prayers or a card; a phone call or a text; sitting in the waiting room or bringing a meal; joining the pew of someone sitting alone or sharing a moment of celebration. Jesus loved his disciples until the end, so he washed their feet. We love one another, so we serve in small but significant ways.
That brings me back to the cathedral. On Monday, another pastor friend of mine reminded me of this story:
It happened that a traveler came to France to see the great the cathedral that was being built there. Arriving at the end of the day, he went to the site just as the workers were leaving for home. He asked one man, covered with dust, what he did there. The man replied that he was a stone mason, he spent his days carving rocks. Another man, when asked, said he was a glassblower who spent his days making slabs of colored glass. And still another workman replied that he was a blacksmith who pounded iron for a living. Wandering into the deepening gloom of the unfinished edifice, the traveler came upon an older man armed with a broom, sweeping up the stone chips, and wood shavings, and glass shards from the day’s work. “What are you doing?” the traveler asked. The man paused, leaning on his broom, looked up toward brilliant windows and soaring arches and replied, “Me? I’m building a cathedral for the glory of Almighty God!”
Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end. He interrupted their dinner to wash their feet. And after he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table he said to them, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
My friends, interrupt your life to love and serve one another. For in small but significant ways we are building a cathedral for the glory of Almighty God!

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