Maundy Thursday 2016
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Pastor Sarah Stadler
About nine months ago, someone in our community sat in my office, and we talked about life. This was not an unusual situation.
Many of you have sat in my office talking about life, or we have shared over lunch. Or I have come to your hospital bedside or visited you at work or come to an event in your life. Maybe we have talked while you chopped fruit during GLOW preparation or while gardening at Grant Park Community Garden or while driving on the mission trip or over the phone. I spend a lot of time talking with you who are part of the Grace community about life, about illness and death, about unemployment and vocation, about school and relationships, about questions you have about God and the world. So, when I sat with this particular person in my office to discuss life, it was not unusual. What was unusual was that, after talking about her own life, this person turned to me and asked me questions about me and about my life, the kind of questions I would normally ask other people, questions that revealed she really had been listening to me. Startled, I didn’t quite know what to say. My mind went blank. When I recovered from my surprise, one question filled my brain: Is it okay for me to answer her questions? You see, as a pastor, it is my job to care for others, to listen to others, to pray for others, to be present with others. What my dad long ago taught me and what was reinforced in seminary was that it is inappropriate for me to expect to be cared for by anyone in the congregation I serve. Instead, as a professional, I am the one who cares for others. Of course, no matter who we are, in our culture, we often inquire about each other’s lives but simply in passing, and I was taught that any inquiry more significant than a passing interest would be too personal and a violation of pastor-church member boundaries. To be absolutely clear—I am not sharing this story because I want to be cared for, and I am not sharing this story because I am advocating a different set of pastor-church member boundaries. I share this story because in that moment that this person asked me these deep, thoughtful, rather intimate questions, I realized that I am uncomfortable being cared for. I am uncomfortable receiving the ministry of another person. While the cliché goes: it is far more valuable to give than receive, receiving the ministry of others is perhaps just as important for it reminds us that we are all in need, that we are all human, that none of us are above another. It would be easy for me to believe, as a pastor, that I need nothing, need no one to care for me. It would be easy for me to believe that I have all the answers I need, that I can and should rely only upon myself. You may not be a pastor, but I wonder if you might be able to identify with me, this difficulty in trusting other people with yourself and letting people care for you. I honestly do really struggle with this. Perhaps you can feel my mixed emotion in sharing these words because what I find in our story tonight, the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, is a breaking down of these barriers we put up between us and other people. What I find in our story is Jesus calling the disciples into intimate connection with him and one another. And to truly make a connection with another person, we must give and receive, receive and give. Relationships cannot be one-sided: only giving or only receiving.
In the gospel tonight, Jesus wraps a towel around himself, kneels down, and washes the feet of his disciples. Usually a task reserved for the lowest servant of the house, foot washing was not something Peter thought Jesus should be doing. “You will never wash my feet,” Peter tells Jesus, but Jesus replies, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
In past years, I have skimmed over that verse about how Peter would have no share with Jesus if his feet were not washed. This year, that verse stuck with me. What is it the disciples do to have a share with Jesus? What is it the disciples do to be part of Jesus’ fold? Nothing. In this story, there is nothing active the disciples do. They simply receive the care of Jesus. They sit and have their feet washed. They don’t control anything, assert anything, believe anything, do anything. Jesus does for them.
Most days we spend here at church, I challenge you to DO something: love someone, serve someone, think differently about something. And you all are so fabulous, you actually do it! Or at least, I think you do. Tonight, the good news and the bad news is that Jesus asks us, commands us, really, to do nothing, to simply receive, to allow our feet to be washed. This requires nothing of us but real-ness, our presence, a letting go. And perhaps, that is why Jesus’ command tonight is so difficult. It feels scary to let go, be real, and be really present with another person who is glad to sit at our feet and wash them.
Tonight, I invite you to receive foot washing, to allow us, the body of Christ, to care for you in this way. I invite you to come to the back of the sanctuary, to sit down in a chair, and to receive. And once your feet are washed, you may, of course, switch places and wash someone else’s feet. Because, yes, we are called to give as well as receive.
Dear people of God, the essence of the gospel is seen and heard on Maundy Thursday. When we think we have control in our relationship with God, when we think there is something we can do to earn favor with God, when we get tied up in knots over correct beliefs or correct action, there Jesus goes showing us all he wants is for us to receive what he wants to give. And what he wants to give is love.