The Third Sacrament / A Message for Maundy Thursday / March 20, 2008
Mention the Lord’s Supper….and we automatically picture an image that has been engraved in our mind’s eye since we first started attending church as a child. We remember hearing the story…of how ‘on the night in which he was betrayed’…Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it…and gave it to his disciples, saying:
“Take and eat…this is my body…given for you.
Do this…in remembrance of me.”
And then, after the supper, he took a cup of wine…gave thanks…and gave it for all to drink saying:
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Shed for you and for all people…for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this…in remembrance of me.”
Now, as important as all of this is…and it is very important…there is something else that we need to focus our attention on tonight. Something that John’s Gospel says took place at this same meal…and yet, only recorded by John. It was so important, in fact, that some denominations have turned this event into a third sacrament…equal to that of Baptism and Holy Communion.
What I am alluding to, is something that Jesus did on the very night that he instituted what we now call ‘The Lord’s Supper’…’The Last Supper’…’the Eucharist’...and ‘Holy Communion’. What I am talking about is the washing of one another’s feet. (Pause…)
I am pausing…because I know that just in raising the subject of foot-washing, many of us are already beginning to cringe at the prospect. Feet are to many a very touchy subject. I have very ticklish feet and just thinking about someone else touching them makes me feel…nervous, at best.
Feet are a private matter when it comes to boundaries because as we can all imagine, there are days when our feet don’t exactly smell like a bouquet of roses…plus, they may not look all that attractive in someone else’s eyes. Which is one way of justifying “why” in our day and time, we don’t normally go around offering to ‘wash one another’s feet’.
And yet, in Jesus’ time…it was the most natural thing in the world to have done, especially after one had been traveling on the dry parched roads to Jerusalem. Which is why it isn’t all that hard to imagine, that even on this day…four days after arriving in the city itself, Jesus and his disciples have just laid down on the floor to observe the Passover meal…when Jesus notices that something hasn’t been done.
Looking at his own dirty feet…he realizes that a lesson needs to be relearned. And with time running out, what better time to teach it, than at this last meal with his disciples. Getting up from the table, Jesus takes off his outer robe before reaching for a towel and tying it around his waist.
Out of the corner of his watchful eye, he spies a bowl…and a pitcher of water…and proceeds to pour the water into the bowl, making sure that there is enough to cover one’s feet. With bowl in hand, Jesus then walks over to the disciple, Peter, who doesn’t have a clue as to why Jesus should be the one to wash his tired, aching, and yes…filthy feet. Let James or John….or even his own brother, Andrew…but Jesus? Never! And so he retorts:
“You…will never wash my feet!”
Oh…how we can relate!
Like Peter, as long as we imagine that we can get by without Christ’s cleansing…the Gospel truth is that we can not be saved. Pride in one’s own abilities has no place in the Kingdom of God. We are all helpless sinners for whom no amount of good works, no religious exercises nor Christian ministries can atone.
Only the blood of Christ can save us…his sacrifice offered for us on the cross…and received by us as faith. And so…in the end…we can only come as Peter did on this day, crying out:
“Lord, not my feet only…but my hands and my head!”
If I didn’t know any better, I would have to say that throughout this entire foot-washing exercise…Jesus is alluding to something more. When we speak of ‘being made clean’, for the most part we are talking about having our sins forgiven…our incriminating stains of life…simply washed away. And to that end we are simply reminded here tonight, that there is a once-and-for-all “washing” that occurs when we become members of the body of Christ. We call it Baptism…and it is the only prerequisite we have for receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.
As we carry on our daily lives…and our “feet” become continuously dirty once again, God has provided another sacrament for allowing us to “daily” be washed in his grace. We call this the Lord’s Supper. And tonight…three of our very own are coming here, to receive Jesus…for the very first time.
They come with an attitude of servitude…being taught in their 1st Communion Class to never “take” from God, but to receive with “open hands” what God has promised to give. In the earthly elements of bread and wine God “gifts” to us the forgiveness of all our sins. In turn…God expects something of us as well. God expects that we will follow the example of his son, Jesus…and assume the attitude and posture of a servant.
Not waiting for someone else to take the lead, but instead, leading by example…following the example of Jesus…who not only broke the bread and poured the wine, but also washed their stinky, smelly, and yes…incredibly dirty feet of all twelve of the disciples on the very night in which he was betrayed.
On this Maundy Thursday in the year 2008…may we be so blessed to now go…and branch out of our comfort zones by going in peace, and yes…serving the Lord. Amen.