Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday Devotion

Wade Out a Little Bit Deeper

St. Augustine, in speaking of the Gospel of John said, “It is shallow enough for a child to wade in, and deep enough that an elephant can swim…”

Our Scripture tonight is from John’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 2-17. I’ll be reading from the New International Version.

(Read John 13:2-17)
13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus.
13:3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 13:4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself.

13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.

13:6 Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.”

13:8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 13:9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 13:10 Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 13:11 (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”)

13:12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?

13:13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Let us pray - Father, may Your Holy Spirit open our hearts to hear Your Word. In Jesus’ Name - Amen.

Imagine the strains of “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” - “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords - and He shall reign for-ever and ever (Hallelujah, Hallelujah)…”

Who among us can hear that music without tears and cold chills…

Now, imagine this Very God of Very God; this Creator of the Universe; this Almighty El-Shaddai of the Old Testament, now, takes His cloak off - the cloak without seam, for which soldiers would be gambling in a few hours; He takes it off, lays it aside and begins to wash His disciples’ feet…

What in the world, can this possibly mean?

We’ve talked before about taking Scripture literally and figuratively… Well this time, we need to do both. This is where St. Augustine would say, “Yes, understand it like a child… but don’t be afraid of the deep parts, either…

Jesus, as you know, was a Master storyteller. That’s why His parables are so effective. He has, it seems, a story for every occasion. This time however, instead of telling the story, He acts it out…

Let me set the stage for you…

The events of this night are recorded in all 4 Gospels - albeit from differing viewpoints, as any eyewitness accounts are. Therefore we need to combine the Scriptures in order to get the total picture.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find the disciples coming into the city of Jerusalem to the home of one of Jesus’ followers where a guest room has been prepared for them to partake of the Passover meal.

When the time arrives for the meal, (about 7:00pm, by the way) Jesus and the disciples make their way to the Upper Room. The atmosphere is tense. The disciples know that something is different about this Passover, but they just can’t quite lay their finger on it. They’re tired, and dusty from the walk in from Bethany, and more than just a little on edge.

Over the past few weeks they’ve argued about “status” - about who is the greatest among them, and in fact, they’ll rehash that again this night as well. Normally when they come into a home where no servant is present to wash the dust from their feet, they would just wash one another’s, but not tonight. No one will take the initiative to do that tonight.

And so, stubbornly they just come to the table, with none of them, except maybe John, happy about where they end up sitting - again in relation to their “status” in their own eyes.

Get this picture in your mind. Jesus, knowing fully well what is about to transpire in the next few hours, literally has the weight of the world on His shoulders and there the disciples are sitting at the table, their feet dusty and dirty, grumbling about just which one of them is the most important to Jesus!

According to Luke’s version, Jesus then tells them that one of them will betray Him.

After the initial shock, and questions of “Is it I, Lord?” The conversation quickly turns to, “Well it couldn’t be me because…” And another one says, “Oh yeah, well it couldn’t be me either… and the arguments begin all over again.

At this point, without saying a word, Jesus rises from the table, takes off His outer garments and wraps the rough scratchy linen servant’s towel around His waist and begins to wash their feet.

Imagine their shocked faces as He silently moves from disciple to disciple, gently, carefully, washing their feet, and then drying them with the towel tied around Him.

There is so much more here than meets the eye initially. Jesus, who is fully One with the Father; Who was adorned with all the splendor of heaven, of His own free will, laid aside the Glory that was His, and put on humanity; and all the pain and suffering that fallen humanity brings with it; from the scratchy straw in the manger, to teething, to all the cuts and scrapes that little boys get. He got tired, and hungry and thirsty and wept as any other human being did - and in just a few hours… He would die… But then, He would put back on that Glory and sit back down at the right hand of the Father. And all of His own free will.

There’s a lot more to this analogy than we have time to get into, but the bottom line is - He became a servant so that we might be made royalty.

Well, He’s washing their feet, and He comes to Peter. And Peter says, “No way. You’re not washing my feet. But it was not humility that caused Peter’s protests - it wasn’t that he didn’t think he was worthy of having his feet washed by Jesus - it was pride - false humility and pride are just two sides of the same evil coin.

Peter was saying in essence, “Don’t You know who I am? I’m one of the leaders. I’m one of ‘inner three’. I’ve been on the mountain top with You. And You want to wash my feet? No Way!”

Jesus says, “Peter, you just don’t understand… if you don’t allow me to do this for you, you can have no companionship with Me…” And then in typical “Peter” fashion he says, “Then wash me all over, Lord! Wash me all over…” But he still doesn’t understand.

We know that Jesus is teaching humility and servanthood. In verse 16 He says, “A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent, greater than the one who sent him…” The idea of being servants to others is normally the primary focus of this passage, but I think the main reason most folks don’t really understand this scripture is that they don’t want their feet washed. Most people would have no problem if they were the ones doing the washing or the serving - the one in control. But most of us just don’t want to be on the “receiving end” of the service. We don’t want to be the one “without control.”

I came to understand this when my Daddy was in the hospital. One day as I was feeding him he said, “I just hate for you to have to do this…” And of course I replied, “Daddy, I don’t mind.” Then he said, “Well, I do…” I made some remark about “having your feet washed…” But then, like Jesus said to Peter - I just didn’t understand.

While Daddy was in the hospital I was the one “doing” the serving. Then, as the time wore on and I became more and more exhausted, I began to “need” more and more help myself.

I didn’t want to be the one receiving the help. I didn’t want my “feet washed.” But I needed it. I could no longer do it all myself. And that’s when I really began to understand this scripture. Until you’ve been the one on the receiving end, you’ll never know how much an e-mail or phone call, even leaving a message, can mean; how much a meal can mean; how much a loaf of bread and an afternoon of talking can truly mean!

I began to understand that, yes, it is important to “be the servant” but it’s also important to understand humility and to “allow” another the “gift” of being the servant.

One cannot truly be a leader unless they are willing to be a servant. And one cannot truly learn to be a servant unless they are willing to receive service.

Peter didn’t think he “needed” washing - at least not by Jesus. Are you willing to admit that you “need” washing by Jesus? And then, are you willing to wash and to be washed by others?

Are you willing to forgive others, as you’ve been forgiven? You see, we must remember that among that group of disciples, was Judas… and Jesus washed his feet, too.

Let us pray…

Father, as we wind down these hours of Maundy Thursday, may we be mindful of what happens next. As Jesus leaves this meal, He has less than a hour or so of freedom left; and less than 18 hours to live. And yet, in this time of agony, He is still teaching, still caring, still washing His followers, and even Judas…

Oh God, may we do no less than serve our brothers and sisters, including Judas…

In Jesus’ Holy Name we pray - Amen.

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