Many in the Church today are worried about losing the Church and complain that the Church is dying. As I move around the church I hear about a lot. And then I enter into something good that is going on and people cannot figure out why it is not growing and bigger because of what they have discovered. Most often there is a joy that has been revealed and those who find it cannot understand why others won’t enter into it. Such is the case of Jesus, serving his disciples and washing their feet. Why would hands that have flung stars into space and formed the mountains and divided night from day want to do something as menial as wash someone else’s feet? And why wait until you are around the table and after an excellent meal that the ACW has prepared to do this debasing task? It would seem that there are at least two reasons: (1) the temptations are just as great when you are at the Table with Jesus as they are when you are out in the middle of nowhere with the Devil and (2) when you know that you time is nearly down and life is coming to an end, whom will you serve?
Maundy Thursday is that last moment that Jesus has to teach his self seeking, “me first!” disciples what they are going to need to do in the days ahead. He looked forward to this meal and this moment that he might show all of them (the Twelve) how much he really cared about and loved them. The die was already cast; Judas was waiting for the opportunity to fulfill his plan. Knowing that everything was under his control now he chooses to show his love and teach them one last time. Getting up from a place of honour, Jesus takes of his outer clothes and puts on slave clothes and takes a position of a slave, going from one reclining disciple to the next, washing their feet. How would they have reacted? And the Twelve certainly did react! Was there laughter and teasing as Jesus went about his task? Where there uncomfortable glances with the silent query, “What on earth is he doing,” flashed around the table?
Then Jesus comes to Simon Peter who of course has to speak out, “Are you going to wash mine too, Lord?” It seems that Peter thought this task was beneath Jesus and beneath him as well. Peter was interested in saving some pride both him and for Jesus. So Peter refused to allow Jesus to do what he wanted, “No sir, not me, you will never wash my feet.” Then Jesus told Peter, “Unless I do, I will have to abandon my companionship with you.” Jesus wanted Peter to look beyond himself to see what this would mean for the future and the life that would need to be led. “O! Well then! Wash my head and my hands too!” Jesus points out that Peter doesn’t need that because he is already been bathed (baptized) so this is not that. And then Jesus washed Peter’s feet and when on to finish his task, get re dressed and return to his place of honour. You need to do these things for each other – there is no excuse. If I can do it for you and I am your Lord and Master then you need to do it for each other.
Such is the true nature of the new, Christian community. We are encouraged and expected to love one another as Christ loves us. And in doing so we make know Christ’s presence amongst us. I watch the churches (Anglican and others too) that do this and they are the churches that are vibrant and growing. These are the churches that are growing and doing ministry in the name and presence of him who is amongst us as One who serves. The Church who chooses to serve themselves instead of seek to serve Christ as he is encountered in others is a church that lives to itself. And the Church that lives for itself dies unto itself.
The Church is not unified because we all believe the same kinds of doctrines or because the walls are painted the right colours. The Church is united by a deep and abiding love in the Christ who enables them to serve and to live the risen life each of us needs to live. The Church is strengthened out of the uncommon love we have for the Saviour and are bound to each other because we serve the same Jesus. Out of this love comes what we believe and how we live with each other, knowing that Christ is present amongst us. The Church cannot serve Jesus until it has been served by Jesus. It needs to experience the love and devotion of its Master so that it can be anchored and enabled to stand. Otherwise it is lost and adrift on a wild and tempestuous sea. Are you tempted to live your own way and serve yourself? Or would you rather try to be more daring and live your life by giving in the service of the King for a day? You decide. Its getting late and it is getting dark outside. They are coming.