Sacred Soil

Washing Judas’ Feet
March 28, 2013, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1–4,11–14
Psalm 116:1–2, 12–19
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
John 13:1–17, 31b–35

I imagine that it was a cool evening, the spring air settling down around them. They’ve gathered for the Passover meal, which is, as it has always been, a pretty big deal for the Jewish folks–this tradition handed on from the time of Moses. This is the night that they remember the night they escaped tyranny and slavery. The night they remembered how grandmother made the lamb, how father would tell the story, how the rituals of the night were etched into their being.

And now these, who have been following Jesus, find themselves in Jerusalem, eating this ancient meal. Far from family, these disciples, must have been overwhelmed by all that was happening. The great crowds following them, the celebration as they entered the city. Things were getting strange—nothing was as they expected. Anxiety floated high in the air. They simply do not know what to expect, as sacred expectations met growing anxiety.

Actually, Jesus does know what to expect. At least, as gospel writer of John tells the story. He knows that the soldiers are gathering, even as they sit at this table. He knows that Judas is prepared to hand him over. He knows that Peter will deny him. He knows that soon he will die.

Now, you or I, knowing these things, well, it seems to me that this might heighten the anxiety. That our brains would be loud with the sound of fear. That the questions and worry might pour over us such that we’d not even be able to eat. We’d not be able to sit, or even to listen.

But Jesus, knowing that this meal will be his last, wraps a towel around his waist, and sits down on the floor, gently and tenderly washing their weary and dirty feet.

It’s a jarring moment. This is not the Jesus the crowds were celebrating, not the king they imagined. All glory is washed away, as the dirt of their feet becomes mud on his hands.

And this is stunning to me. That our God would sit at our feet, our calloused and smelly feet, and pour warm water on them, wrapping them in a towel to dry.

But even more stunning, more surprising to me, is that he washes Judas’ feet. The man who betrays him. And he knows this—he knows that Judas will betray him. And he does it anyway.

I wonder what that was like—holding Judas’ feet in his hands? I wonder how it felt to wash away the grime of Jerusalem’s streets from his feet? This moment of tenderness stuns me—as Jesus loves this one who cannot love him back.

I think I can safely say that for us, for we in the room, we are far more like the disciples when we encounter such moments. We are far more likely to respond with anxiety. With fear. On those days when dread lingers at every corner– we do not tend to respond with a towel and warm water.

Indeed, when confronted with anxiety, our choices are limited. We know how to fight, how to flee, or how to freeze. Our reptilian brains take over, plotting the best course to safety and security, narrowing our vision to filter out everything that might get in the way of our most important need: survival.

It becomes all about me. Everything is filtered through he need for survival, individual survival. Personal protection. We are unable to see anyone else.

And this might be fine and expected if this were a rare occurrence. For most of us, the days are few when soldiers are gathering to bring us to trial. But, this anxiety is not unusual. It is not rare. Indeed, it is as if our society breeds on this anxiety—merely turning on the news, makes our hearts race. As debt loads rise, as health care gets more costly, the weather get too warm, too cold. Indeed I do not need to give you this list, you have one of your own I am sure. These are the things that keep us up at night, the things that linger in our thoughts, impossible to remove.

In the wake of this anxiety, we become more and more narrowed in on ourselves. Fearing one another, wondering who will be Judas? And so we protect and hide ourselves—keeping our feet, our worn out, dirty feet, safely in our shoes, for fear that someone may see our weakness.

But that night, Jesus got down on his knees, and knelt at those dirty, aching feet. Feet worn down with the weight of fear and anxiety. And he washed them, pouring precious water over each foot—your feet, my feet, Peter’s feet, and Judas’ feet.

In preparation for the night to come, as the solders gather, as Judas plots, Jesus does not withdraw, he does not up draw arms, he does not stay still. Rather, he loves. He loves even the one who cannot love him back. He loves, because this is our God. Our God is the one that responds to all of our fear and anxiety, all of our narrowness and greed, by loving us. Loving us with a love greater than our capacity to understand, greater than our capacity to return in kind.

But then he gives us this command: go and do the same.

Because there are days of anxiety. Days when the world seems to revolve around our fears and our judgments. Days when we cannot get beyond ourselves—days when it seems the armies are gathering for us.

And it is in precisely this moment that Jesus shows us that the best thing we can do is to get down on our knees, wrap a towel around our waists, and love one another. Regardless of their capacity to love us back.

Because that’s the kind of God we’ve got.

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