Summary: It’s like looking at Jesus on the cross. We can look at him on the cross and see how much he loves us. But it’s too big. How are we meant to copy that? So Jesus shows us something we can copy. He kneels down and washes his followers feet.
The Cup - well I am hoping they are just tannin stains on the inside. Looking round at the flat I am guessing they are worse than that. Some houses are untidy. My house is untidy. This house wasn’t untidy. It was filthy. Dirt. Crumbs. Mouldy bits of food. Wrappers and scraps of packaging. Dust. This was my introduction to ministry as a curate in Bethnal Green. She generously poured tea into the cup and pushed and a saucer of unappetising biscuits towards me. I lifted the cup, metaphorically closed my eyes and swallowed. Over the years I have washed many people’s feet on Maundy Thursday. Most have been clean. A few - probably deliberately to challenge me - have been quite dirty. But all have been easy - compared with that cup of tea I had to swallow in that disgusting flat off the Roman Road.
But that is what ministry is all about. I often tell children who come to the church about how priests wear a Stole - a towel - to remind themselves of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Priesthood - leadership - in the Christian community - is about being a servant. And of course there is a sense in which we all share in Christ’s priesthood - the priesthood of all believers.- a sense in which we are all called to wash feet. In first Century Judea people wore sandals. Open toed sandals on dusty streets that donkeys pooped in. Sweat, dirt, poop. Washing them was probably about as pleasant as drinking that cup of tea.
Bishop Paul Bayes tells a story about how he first encountered the Vineyard movement. In the late 1980s the American pastor John Wimber of the Vineyard Church came to this country preaching “Power Evangelism”. Big conferences were held in which John Wimber talked about how miracles, healings and words of knowledge could be used to spread the good news. Fr Paul Bayes a quite traditional Anglo-Catholic went along. He was quite sceptical. Here were all these polished Americans singing their pop songs. They all had smiles that seemed just a little bit too good to be true. In the middle of the morning their was the opportunity to receive prayer . The people offering it were young people who taken their own holiday time (and you don’t get much holiday in America) and paid their own money for the flights. They all wore shiny t-shirts with the Vineyard logo on them. Fr Paul watched a young man and young woman pray for a woman in front of him. She clearly had some sort of evil spirit and they were praying for deliverance. Paul was very sceptical. And then the woman projectile vomited all over the floor and over her own clothes. Without missing a beat, the volunteer whipped his t-shirt off and with it wiped up all the mess. And a calmness and peace descended on the woman that had not been there before. Looking back Bishop Paul says that was the moment he realised there was something real going on. The American mega church culture might come across as brash and over the top - but underneath it was the depth of someone who was prepared to wipe someone’s sick up with their own t-shirt, staying calm and reassuring the whole way through it.
The word Maundy as in Maundy Thursday comes from the latin Mandatum. On this holy night Jesus gives his disciples a new Mandatum, “a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all people know that you are my disciples that you love one another as I have loved you”.
When you love someone it is easy to do things for them that you would never do for anyone else. It is easy to change your own child’s nappy. How many of you want to change a stranger’s baby? In both the December and October before my mum died, she stayed with me. As she did so I discovered the extent of the neglect by her carers. Her legs were meant to be moisturised regularly. They had clearly not been touched for months. Peeling her shoes off her dead skin came stuck to them. Bits flaked all over the place as I tried to gently rub the moisturiser into her skin. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, and I would have struggled - perhaps even gagged or vomited - if asked to do it for someone else. But it’s different when it’s your mum. It’s easy to do something you would never do for someone else if you love them. Jesus washes his disciples feet. They may be covered in sweat dirt and poop, but it is easy because Jesus loves them.
Yet isn’t there a sense that it’s the other way round. If you were to start to regularly change the nappy of a baby that wasn’t your own, could you help but start to love the little child? Mike Yackonelli tells a story of a man who went and told his pastor that he struggled to love his neighbour. So his pastor told him to go each week and visit an old man who lived by himself on the edge of town. He didn’t want to do it. But his pastor told him “Do it”. When he went the old man was grumpy and swore at him, but gave him jobs to do, so he did them. And though he hated every minute of it, because his pastor told him he had to, he kept going back. He were do the man’s shopping. He would mow his lawn. He change light bulbs. He would fix him dinner. And the more he did, the more the guy demanded. There was no gratitude . Just cussing and abuse. He told his pastor “I can’t keep doing this - I don’t love old bert at all. In fact I think I hate him”. But the pastor said “just keep doing it”. So it kept up for over a year. And gradually he got used to it. If he went away on holiday, he actually found he missed seeing old Bert - even though when he got back he got abuse for being away. And then one day when he knocked at the door there was no grumpy “come in” like there usually was. He nervously opened it, and there was Bert lying collapsed on the floor dead. And as he looked at Bert he burst into uncontrollable sobs, and at that moment he realised quite how much he loved Bert.