Today marks the first day in a story that we tell over the next three days, known as the Triduum, beginning with the Lord’s supper and the washing of the disciple’s feet, through Jesus’ internal agonising struggle in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrayal, the rigged trial in the middle of the night, Pilates cowardice, the trauma and the heartbreaking horror ofGood Friday, the waiting, the unbelievable result, the depth of its meaning.
We want to understand because we wonder what makes this story so important and so powerful in today’s world.
There’s a lot going on in today’s scripture readings. And they’re all connected…In the first reading the natives of Israel had been enslaved in the land of Egypt for really long time. They’d come originally at the invitation of Pharaoh, at the time that Jacobs missing son Joseph had been promoted as the next in command to Pharoh, and had saved his brothers and his father from famine and given them the land of Goshen to settle.
But now years later, at this time when the old Pharoh was gone, no one remembered Joseph or Jacob, and the nation of Israel had grown more and more prosperous more and more numerous. Racism took over both the house of Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, and they enslaved the people of Israel.
All Hebrew male children would be drowned.
So Mose’s sister put an
ark, containing the three-month-old baby Moses, in reeds by the river bank (presumably the Nile) to protect him from the Egyptian mandate to drown every male Hebrew child. Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who raised him as one of Pharaoh’s kin. He lived as a royal and had great authority.
But even as he grew up in privilege, he saw the injustices towards the Jews and on realising he was actually a Jew, he began to struggle internally.
One day he committed a murder trying to protect one of the Jewish slaves from a brutal slave master.. Terrified his sin would be found out after he buried the body in the sand,
Moses went into hiding for many years out in the countryside, got married, had children. Was retired. Impotent to help.
Until God came and found him, Moses, an old man with a chequered past to lead Israel out of the land of Egypt.
When this part of the story commences, he had already gone to Pharoah several times demanding their release and several times Pharoah had promised to let the Israelites go
(usually after a plague of locusts or snakes to be fair) and then would change his mind. After all there were thousands and thousands of Jewish slaves and they had actually built his city.. the entire Egyptian economy depended on slavery…And in this story , God says, enough is enough. Pharoah has refused for the last time.. it says that God struck down the firstborn of every human and animal in the land of Egypt as a sign that he meant business and he wanted Pharaoh to let his people go.
They’ve already gotten ready to go so many times they’ve already made it almost to the edge of the desert a few times and been hauled back by Pharaoh, but tonight God says to Moses, ‘Get an unspotted lamb, prepare the Lamb, everybody paint the door post of your house with the blood of the lamb and when the angel of death passes through Egypt he will pass over your door.
Eat your lamb standing up, ready with your loins girded, and your sandals fastened and your backpack and staff in your hand, because this time? we’re leaving.
And you tell them they’re to remember this night when God passed over and delivered them out of Egypt, with their lamb in their hands, on the run.’
It’s decreed as a day of remembrance forever. In Jerusalem.
So by the time Jesus hits the scene, the Passover has been celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years.
And once again, the nation of Israel is basically enslaved, occupied by a foreign power.
A brutal, carnivorous foreign power with absolutely no regard for Israel’s God or Israel’s laws.
Many temporary Roman governors had been assigned to this desolate post. Historians figure that if you displeased Caesar you got shipped out to watch over Israel. And the Israelites had a reputation for being really unruly.
Other slaves accommodated acclimatised acculturated became Roman, but not the Jews, they stubbornly stuck to the Synagogue, they had their own legal system, one the Romans rarely interfered with, they adhered to their laws, to their religious system and they refused to co-operate, except very minimally, with Rome, the two entities coexisting uneasily .
You cannot read the story of Jesus and the disciples and this week, with 21st century eyes. You have to understand what was happening. Israel was in a foment and as we unpack this story, there are two key characters coming up over the next couple of days and one of those character is Judas Iscariot and one of those characters is Pilate the Roman prelate.
Jesus has already inflamed the high priest, the scribes and the Pharisees by raising Lazarus from the dead. Because once Lazarus was raised from the dead, there is no room for ambiguity. As well, the floodgates are open, people streaming in droves to see Jesus, to hear Jesus, to talk about Jesus, to meet Jesus and the talk around town was ,’Is He really the Messiah, is this the one we’ve been waiting for??’
The disciples and all of Jesus’ friends are terrified for him, because the tension in Jerusalem is getting to a fever pitch as people are arriving from everywhere as is the custom, the law, they have to come here they’re here for Passover and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people.
As they arrive, everybody has been listening and everybody has been hearing about the man who raised a man from the dead in front of dozens of witnesses!
The disciples don’t want Jesus to go to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is where Jesus has to be. So he comes in in on a donkey, in deliberate fulfillment of the prophecy in the scriptures of Isaiah.
So this is the atmosphere. Jesus asks his folks to arrange for a place to celebrate the Passover. They do and they all arrive. You can bet Martha has the meal whipped up tiptop shape.
His nearest and dearest and closest friends are there. They’re tired and dusty. And
Before they sit down to eat, Jesus gets a bowl of water, strips himself of his robes, wraps a towel around his waist and goes to work washing each of his guests feet, every person there.
Traditionally, the person who washed feet in a household was the lowest servant in the household, like nobody wanted to wash the dirty stinking disgusting feet of people coming in off of the streets where dirt was mixed with camel dung.
It was an awful job.
And Jesus got to it. So they’re sitting there. They’re all sitting there in shock and finally Peter who has the biggest mouth in the room and always says what everyone else is thinking, says incredulously,
‘You’re going to wash my feet?’ and Jesus says you don’t understand what I’m doing now but one day you will understand..
But our Pete says emphatically! ‘You’ll never wash my feet!!!!’
and Jesus tells him, ‘If I don’t wash your feet Peter, you can’t have a share with me’ to which Peter predictably replies, not just my feet, but my hands in my head, wash all of me and Jesus says you know people who have taken a bath are already clean and they just need to have their feet washed daily.
This is a pack and a half of metaphors!! .
He repeats, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing right now but later on you understand.’
He says what in my opinion are some of the most powerful words in the gospel..
‘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 Iyour 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 should do as I have done to you. Truly truly I tell you servants are not greater than their master nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them and if you know these things you are blessed if you do them.’
So. Ok. What does that actually mean? What does it look like when we wash the feet of our brother or sister?
It means we get down and dirty. It means that there are no barriers of propriety or niceness or etiquette between you what is their darkest, deepest need at the end of a long day, with their dirty filthy feet.
We’re called to help clean up their feet and make their daily journey better.
To make their daily journey BETTER.
he says you know if you taking a bath if you don’t need them washed again that day he was speaking the baptism I think, but when he talks about cleaning dirty feet… like I suppose we think that if we go to prayers and we confess our sins and we clean it up with God everyday, then that’s what washing feet looks like…. but Jesus says we’re supposed to be doing that for each other. That means we should be able to go to each other and say ‘Today I have so much dirt on my feet that my heart is breaking.
I can’t find my faith, I’m so sick or I’m so weary. I have hate in my heart, I’m jealous and bitter. I resent things. I’m afraid. I don’t know if I believe in God, I don’t know if I believe in myself. I’m not sure why I’m going to church’
And we kneel at the feet of our brothers and sisters and we say ‘it’s ok, ok dear, don’t worry’, and we put a little warm water on it saying, ‘my dear, that? That’s just dirt. Underneath are your brautiful feet that you walk every mile, every day in God’s path , today your feet stink and they’re dirty, but let’s just clean them up so you can go to bed fresh, wake up fresh for new day tomorrow.’
If we wash each other’s feet, we become family, because who else will do such a thing for you?
This can be a lonely place for people who come from cultures where you traditionally are close to each other physically and emotionally.
It can be very lonely when nobody’s talking about what’s really going on inside of them.
We tell people to find a counsellor, we send them to somebody more appropriate (and I’m just as guilty of that by the way as other people,) we don’t want to wash people’s feet!! It’s dirty, it’s not nice, it doesn’t feel good and yet….can you see that relief on the face of your brother or your sister when the warm water washers over them and all of that dirt and all of that rocky soil and all of that smelly stuff goes away in the water that gets poured away? …rub between their toes, oil of myrrh, of healing…everybody knows how good it feels have you feet taken care of and everybody knows how hard it is to find somebody to do it! I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we get married. It’s so that somebody will rub our feet.
I was looking at thid scripture, and the other scriptures to follow over the next couple of days I was struck by something that kind put me on my knees. Because among the people sitting down when Jesus knelt in front of and washed their feet, was Judas Iscariot, who in his foolhardy zealotry and misreading of the signs, and sin, betrayed Jesus.
.. I have a lot to say about Judas over the next couple of days, but as I was doing some research I’m looking through different articles I run across this poem.
And if you know a close your eyes in these last minutes here, I’d like to share with you now.
‘Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up? Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?
As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.
And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.
In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew, what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.’