For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
A few weeks ago, The Herring of Christ (TM) and I were reflecting on the Last Supper...
Why, he wondered, was it the breaking of bread that became the Sacrament of Christ's presence for his followers?
Why did the church not place equal emphasis on the washing of feet?
After all, St John, from whose gospel our reading came tonight, doesn't even mention the breaking of bread at the Last Supper (it's there at an earlier feast - but not in this pivotal place on the night before the crucifixion)
So why, when Jesus told us to carry out both actions have we chosen simply to focus on bread and wine as the centrepiece of our devotions?
I suspect the reasons are many and complicated.Breaking and sharing bread, blessing and sharing wine was already an integral part of all formal Jewish meals.It wasn't a new ritual, or one restricted to the Passover - it was a completely natural practice for all of Jesus' disciples...but at the Last Supper it is invested with a new meaning. As so often, we have translation to thank for some of the confusion and suspicion that has been felt and voiced at the idea that we are consuming the body and blood of Christ...Listen to these words from Bosco Peters, a NZ priest who writes
"We regularly bring to our reading of the scriptures a Greek philosophical concept of a person being a “soul” – and “having” a body. Hebrew and Aramaic language regularly used “body” for “person” and .....identified “blood” with “life”. Jesus breaking bread and offering a cup of wine was saying: “this is me – my self and my life – I am giving you my self and my life – do this in remembrance of me.”
An amazing reality.
Christ's self, his life, entrusted to us in bread and wine...
So, through the centuries the church, perhaps mindful that we seem to find it easier to worship the God we've not seen than the neighbour over the fence, has allowed us to focus on this mandate,
"Do this in remembrance of me"
And hoped we could take the other “you also should do as I have done for you” for granted.
The problem is that it seems much easier to care for others, to wash their feet, than to accept care ourselves
It's not so very surprising
Foot washing, you see, is intimate, embarassing....it makes us uncomfortable just thinking about it (remember how it made Peter feel, and it was part of everyday life for him!)It's always a struggle to find a collection of people willing to let their feet be washed in church, even just once a year.
Feet are rarely our most beautiful feature (no matter what the Bible tells us about the feet of those who preach good news) and we prefer to keep them safely hidden from view...
Perhaps we worry that taking off our shoes and revealing the corns, callouses and peeling nail varnish we may accidentally reveal other equally unsavoury aspects of ourselves....that the God we find unexpectedly kneeling at our feet may see us in all our vulnerability and muddle.
MAY see us?
Of course he does...He sees us, as he knows us, through and through...and as he sees us, he loves us.
As I took groups of children round the Experience Easter stations this year, it was the activity at the font that provoked the most thoughtful responses. We considered the title "Servant King", pondering how such contradictions might be joined in the person of Jesus. One small boy changed my understanding forever as he said
"Jesus understands exactly how it is to be anyone...it doesn't matter how different they are, what they look like to other people...Jesus knows how it is because he has been there - from servant to king. He understands children and bullies too".
Jesus, in one action, giving us not just a model for Christian life, but a glimpse of the heart of the God who knows us all inside out and loves us just the same....
George Herbert, priest and poet, grasped this when he wrote
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
My dear, then I will serve.
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
Let us celebrate that amazing love as we accept his gracious invitation to“Take, eat...”