Sermon transcript, 2 April 2015, Maundy Thursday
The mandate by Fr. Dana
Exodus 12:1-14a, Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25, I Corinthians 11:23-32, John 13:1-15
Maundy Thursday: the word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum: “mandate”. Jesus gave a mandate on this night at the Last Supper. It was after Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet and Judas had left the gathering to prepare for his betrayal; and at that point Jesus spoke to the Eleven who remained (John 13:31-35). That is the mandate: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). He said this after washing the feet, and that shows us that this foot-washing has at least two points of significance, not one. Yes, it points to cleansing; but it also points to sacrificial love.
Jesus said to Peter that one who bathes only needs to have his feet washed (John 13:10). Bathing was a thorough cleansing of the entire body; it was performed less frequently in Bible times (probably less frequently than we’re used to), and much less frequently than foot-washing, because with no paved roads walking was a very dusty business. Washing the feet was done daily, maybe even multiple times during the day; it was a cleansing of the parts of the body that got dirty just living life. We have a spiritual equivalent: the Sacrament of Baptism. In a similar manner, it is a thorough cleansing: it cleanses our entire soul and spirit, and it is only performed once. Once you are baptised into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, you don’t get baptised again. But we also get dirty in our daily lives, and for that reason God has given us a second Sacrament: Confession. It is a cleansing of our souls and spirits that have got dirty just by living life, dirty from sin.
So Jesus humbled Himself, took up the basin and towel, and washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5). He humbled Himself; however the disciples could only receive this washing if they humbled themselves. This was especially hard for Peter, as we heard in the Gospel: “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus said, “Then you have no part with Me.” Peter changed his mind really quickly: “Ah, don’t stop at my feet – do my hands and my head.” And Jesus said, “No – the only parts that need to be washed are the parts that got dirty: that’s your feet.” (John 13:6-10) In the same way, after Baptism we must allow Jesus to wash us regularly through confession. If we rely only on Baptism and do not confess our sins, these sins build up on our soul like barnacles on the hull of a ship or coral on a shipwreck: pretty soon you can’t see the ship; and in the same way sin comes in between our souls and God. And if we don’t let Jesus remove that through confession, it will obscure the face of our Lord and it will make it much more difficult for us to hear Him. We do not need to be re-baptised, but we do need to cleanse the part of us that gets dirty over time.
Part of the foot washing is the cleansing, and it’s something that we need, but part of it also is sacrificial love. In the Gospel we heard, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God…” (John 13:3). Jesus, although He had all power and all authority, still stripped down, took up a towel and washed their feet. This was not the first time He had humbled Himself, nor would it be the last (Philippians 2:6-8). He humbled Himself just to become a man; and then, becoming a man, He didn’t become a king – He was born in a stable, He had no job, he wandered around preaching: He humbled Himself. And then He humbled Himself even further by taking on the role of a bondservant or a slave, taking off His outer garments, picking up a towel and a basin and washing His disciples’ feet. He was their Lord and Teacher, and He washed their feet. So yes, it’s about foot-washing, but it’s also about Jesus’ attitude: the willingness to empty Himself and humbly serve others.
And what does He say after He has done this? Read John 13:15-17: in other words, Jesus is saying, “Go and do likewise”. And so we are to love one another, not just as friends, and not even just as brothers and sisters, but we are to love one another as He has loved us: with humble, sacrificial love.