Jesus gives us what we need, and then a little bit more.
On Maundy Thursday, this is when we remember that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples. It wasn’t a symbolic meal; it was an actual meal, possibly a ritual meal for the feast of Passover.
Like many meals, Jesus started with a bread course, taking a roll from the common bread basket, in the same way we’d be familiar with. But this time, Jesus told his disciples this bread would be his body, and he would feed us with himself. And at the end of the meal, that’s when the cup of wine was passed around, and he told his disciples this is his blood.
It sounds weird, for the disciples and for us now. But we’ve continued this same ritual with the bread and wine, every week, and now we call it the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We’ve made it more familiar, and every week, we tell the same story of the Last Supper but now we also dress it up with fancy dishes and candles, with music and poetic prayers. We proclaim the mystery and the weirdness of Jesus at this awkward dinner party.
But there’s another thing Jesus did at that dinner, which made his disciples, especially Peter, really uncomfortable—he washed their feet, an inescapably intimate action. Even if foot-washing was a more generally common ritual in the culture of Jesus’s time, and even if it made some kind of hospitable sense in a warm climate where people wore sandals on dirt roads, foot-washing was still the job of a servant. You know, the kind of person who doesn’t have a place at the table with the guests. A servant is someone you’d feel okay ignoring while you continue your table conversation.
But Jesus becomes the host and the servant, a leader and teacher who is also doing the really dirty work, and he did this very much on purpose. In a caring gesture, he explains to his disciples his expectation that they will wash one another’s feet.
And you can imagine this was extremely uncomfortable for the disciples, the same discomfort we feel even still, since perhaps you noticed there is not to be a foot-washing ritual in our worship tonight. Some Christians still do wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday, called “maundy” because it comes from the Latin word mandatum which means command. The command is to love one another and to serve one another, even in dirty work like foot-washing.
In our culture, we’re pretty shy about showing our dirty feet, and it is not common for guests to enter a home and expect their feet to be washed. For us, foot-washing belongs in a nail salon where people get pedicures, tended by nail technicians who know how to scrub and massage a person’s feet and legs, trimming their toenails and maybe even polishing them. Salons offering these kinds of services become spaces where community can grow, while people are tending to their bodies.
I want to share a poem from a friend, Jenny Jenkins, who wrote about what she noticed in such a space. The title of the poem is “Sanctuary.”
I didn’t come to the nail salon for sanctuary
I came because my polish was chipped
My cuticles looked rough
I had a callous
But the woman beside me during my manicure
Her son tried to come with her
He didn’t want his nails done
Just to come along
But she needed the break
30 child free minutes
Conversation with another adult
And the woman in the pedicure chair to my left
Was getting her toes done
Before the funeral for her son in law
Murdered last week
Shot and left for dead in the living room of a friend’s house
And the old man across from me
Told the woman
How his wife used to love coming here
But he lost her two years ago
He couldn’t bend to raise his pant leg
So the woman pushed up his jeans
And washed his feet
While he grieved
I didn’t come here for sanctuary
But my hands were being worked on
And I couldn’t use my phone
And I couldn’t be interrupted
So for an hour we all sat and communed
Before going back into the chaos of our lives
Grateful for the sanctuary of the nail salon
All of the faithful believers who gather on holy nights like this one, the frequent church-goers who show up every week for worship, you’re not just here to get something or to receive God’s grace in the Sacraments—you are also being formed in your spirit, formed as a follower of Jesus Christ. You do receive God’s grace, you are washed and forgiven in Holy Baptism, you are fed by food and Sacraments and love and community, but it doesn’t stay here—you take the sanctuary into the world, and the more you notice it, the more you find it everywhere.
And this is how you fulfill Christ’s command to love one another and serve one another. As much as I love foot-washing as an annual ritual in worship, I can’t ignore the fact that loving service happens in many, many ways, all the time.
Sometimes loving service looks like listening and caring for your neighbors, even strangers in a nail salon. Sometimes it’s heavy lifting, like helping someone move to a new place. Sometimes it’s showing up for a protest or a rally, or driving someone to a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes it’s plunging a toilet. I’ve met someone who told me they would rather plunge a toilet than wash someone else’s feet, and you know, that made me really grateful that God creates us with such different and varying gifts and talents.
In response to the question “Will you wash my feet?” Rev. Sarah Speed has written this poem, entitled “Of all the ways.”
You could show up with sugar cubes and two plump oranges,
delivering a pep talk as you hang your coat.
You could provide a meal, filling the house with the sweet smells of rosemary and sage,
lighting the candles, playing music through the rooms.
You could leave rambling voice memos that start with, Hey, it’s me,
I was just thinking of you, and carry on to share the details of your day.
You could get eye-level with the little ones, ask them questions like,
What should we put in your fort? And, what’s your favorite farm animal?
You could remember people’s first and middle names, signs of an old-school love.
You could add your pronouns to your nametag and Zoom screen.
You could cry with her when her dog gets sick.
You could remember how he likes his cookies—soft or crispy.
You could deliver Thai food and order extra sticky rice,
because sometimes we just need extra sticky rice.
You could drop off flowers.
You could tell the waitress, “It’s their birthday!”
There are a million ways to show someone your love.
Footwashing was his.
All of these acts of service spring from a deeply-rooted love in Jesus Christ, who loved and washed even the disciples who would misunderstand, who would betray him, who would scatter when times got tough. This same love is for you, even now, in the story we keep telling, in the sanctuary where we gather, in this world which is in desperate need of a love like this.
May this love continue forming us as disciples, and may this love continue changing the world.