If all we had in our Bibles was the gospel of John, the front of our church might look quite different from the way it does now. Matthew, Mark and Luke are the ones who tell the story of Jesus turning the Passover Seder into the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
The table we have before us tonight profoundly shapes the way we understand ourselves as the body of Christ. This table reminds us that none of us are worthy but all are welcome to share in this feast. This table reminds us that in spite of our difference, we are still family. Christ binds us together, and feeds us together, with his many gifts of grace.
As long as we keep coming back to the table, everything is going to be O.K. We can rise above our disagreements. We can heal the hurts we sometimes inflict on one another. We can receive forgiveness from Jesus, and offer forgiveness to one another.
Our Christian faith would be quite different if it wasn’t for this table…but the gospel of John has none of this. According to John there is a meal shared. There is bread and wine. But John’s central symbol for Jesus’ final night with his disciples is not a table. It is a towel and basin. This is his final visual image for what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
I find this interesting because very few churches have little do to with this symbol. Abiding Savior uses it once a year on Maundy Thursday. But not everyone likes it and some are downright uncomfortable with it. Other churches ignore the foot washing completely and make no mention of it, whatsoever.
But if all we had in our Bible was the gospel of John to tell us the story of Jesus’ final night with his disciples, we would have a foot washing station in front of our church instead of a table. This would be the central symbol of our faith, which is actually not a bad thing. Because like the table, the foot washing tells us a great deal about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. If we listen to its story very carefully we will learn that the Body of Christ is called to be serve one another, and to serve the world.
After Jesus had finished washing the feet of his disciples, he summarized his object lesson by saying “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Then, a few sentences later he told them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus made no bones about it: Loving one another means washing one another’s feet. Loving one another, mean serving one another. This involves doing the kind of work we often think is beneath us!
So, what does foot washing look like in our modern age? If we went around the streets of Asheville trying to wash people’s feet, I doubt we would be very effective in drawing people to Christ. In fact, we would probably get strange looks and hostile stares. Someone would call the police thinking we had some kind of perverted foot fetish.
So, what does foot washing look like in our modern age? There was a wonderful piece on Story Corps on NPR, National Public Radio. It involved the amazing relationship between Colin Smith and Ernest Greene. When he was a high school sophomore, Collin Smith was in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic. Ernest Greene, 50 years Collin’s senior, had never met Collin, but he attended the same church. And when Ernest heard about Collin’s accident, he decided he wanted to help. He offered to do whatever Collin needed, from taking him to school to helping him shave. and when Collin began college, Ernest went too.
“What made you want to go to college with me?” Collin, now 23, asked Ernest in a visit to StoryCorps in Asheboro, N.C. “Well I looked at your life and I roughly estimated that it would cost $50,000 a year for somebody to be with you 24 hours a day, five days a week so that you could go to school,” Ernest says. “It sure wouldn’t have been in the cards for me to have to pay that kind of money. I didn’t figure it would be in the cards for you and your family. And so I offered to go to school with you.”
“Did you ever think, ‘What have I got myself into?’ Taking care of me? ” Collin asks. “Probably a few times. Ernest replies. “My day started at 4:30 in the morning. Sometimes it was 14, 16-hour days, and at that point I was getting very tired. I’d be ready to go home and you were [ready] to do something else.”
At Collin’s graduation ceremony, the college president turned to Ernest and awarded him an honorary degree. “I don’t think I’ve been any more shocked in my life,” Ernest says. “I didn’t think I had done anything more than any other person ought to do.”
“We started together and we finished together,” Collin says. “It was only fitting, because you were my hands and feet when I couldn’t use mine. So it’s more than just being a friend. You’re like a father to me, a grandfather. And you became family.”
Thanks to Collin and Earnest, I think I figured out what foot washing looks like in our modern age. It is best summarized by Collin’s own words: “You were my hands and feet when I couldn’t use mine.”
Friends in Christ, on this Maundy Thursday we are challenged to do something that is both beautiful and profound. We are called to be each other’s hands and feet when we can’t do it by ourselves. We are called to carry one another’s burdens, when those burdens become too difficult to bear on our own. We are called to place the needs of another, even a complete stranger, before the needs of our own.
Washing the feet of Christ’s other disciples looks a bit different for everyone. For some it means grabbing a hammer and working on a Habitat House. For others it means baking biscuits and feeding the homeless at Pritchard Park. For some it means offering a home to a child who has run out of options. For others it means visiting a lonely senior who is trapped in a nursing home.
We are called to wash one another’s feet. This is what it looks like to love one another as Christ has loved us. So, maybe John was right. Perhaps we should have a foot washing station in front of our church instead of a table. It’s not a bad way to understand what it means to be a disciples of Christ. Not a bad way at all! AMEN
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck