Summary: Our sharing in eternal life with Jesus Christ begins and end when we follow his example of the Upper Room, serving one another and sharing in the Lord's Supper.
Ever since we were children, old enough to toddle on our own two feet and reach the faucet, we have been told to “go wash up!” You’ve got mud all over yourself, go wash up! Your grandparents are coming, go wash up! Tomorrow’s church, go wash up! It’s dinner time, go wash up! It’s like the parental mantra. The children are never fully ready until they are all washed up!
In a sense, this is what tonight’s gospel lesson is about. It’s about washing up in preparation for the meal that is to follow. But it’s about much, much more than that too. I mean, after all, we know the disciples weren’t going to be eating the Last Supper with their feet! So why is it important that Jesus wash the feet of his disciples? And why is it important that they share in this Last Supper? In the very simplest words, I offer that the importance of this night that Jesus spends with his disciples is that it is both the beginning and the end. It is a beginning and an end both for Jesus and for us.. As we explore the activity in the Upper Room on that Holy Thursday so many years ago, I think we will begin to understand together what that means; what it meant for the disciples then, and what it means for us now.
Foot-washing was common in Jesus’ time. For the most part, people had no shoes, or only sandals to cover their feet, and they spent their days walking around in the dusty roads of their towns and villages. So, upon entering a house, it was common that a person’s feet would be washed so that the dust would not be tracked throughout the house. Surely, this needed to be done as the disciples gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room. But usually, servants did the foot-washing, not hosts. Yet here in the Upper Room, in a supremely humble act, Jesus marks the end of all the he has done so far, and the beginning of the long, slow build-up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the climax of Jesus’ life and ministry. And even in the midst of that, Jesus brings to us a profound example of what it means to follow him; to be a disciple.
You see, it is here in the foot-washing and the Lord’s Supper that we begin to see the way to the Father; the way that will be fully opened through the crucifixion and resurrection. On this night, Jesus is showing us a way to share in his ministry, and through that, ultimately to share in his offer of eternal life. But if we truly desire to share in that Last Supper, that great heavenly banquet where all are gathered with Christ as the host, then we too have to be willing to humble ourselves before one another in love just as Jesus did on this night so many years ago. This is the great importance of the foot-washing. As Jesus ties the towel around his waist and kneels to wash his disciples’ feet, he points to his action of supreme love, even as he says to us, “love one another, just as I have loved you.” At that moment when he might have been puffed-up with pride at the great accomplishments of his ministry, Jesus had great humility. Love is always like that; never self-seeking, always humble.