Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
Not that long ago Jesus is recorded by John as having called his dead friend Lazarus from the tomb. More recently at his house, Lazarus’ sister, Mary expresses her love and gratitude with an exuberant act of adoration, anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, followed by a symbolically triumphal entry into Jerusalem, concluding with Jesus announcing himself the ‘Light of the World.”
And here, in a surprisingly humble act, he then proceeds to wash the feet of his followers.
Peter objects. Of course he does – feet were pretty disgusting in those days and cleaning them was not something anyone above the rank of slave would willingly do.
Reading this, I was taken back to a placement in 2001, during my ordination training, with the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. One weekend in an upper room of their retreat house the leader Ed Loring wondered if we only had John’s Gospel whether, instead of sharing bread and wine, Christians might perhaps wash each other’s feet on a regular basis?
We then proceeded to do exactly that and I found myself on my knees lovingly washing those of an HIV-positive African-American community member, whose forebears had been slaves. Still living in a still deeply-racially-divided State, he was deeply embarrassed whilst I felt incredibly privileged and moved by the experience.
Such symbolic Kingdom Moments open up a vision of a world where there is indeed no longer black and white, ‘Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.’
I believe that was what Jesus was symbolising in that earlier upper room – casting his own Light of the World brightness on the way it could be. The way it should be?
God of all; from highest to lowest; from richest to poorest; from privileged to disadvantaged; from strong to powerless; teach us to be prepared to humble ourselves; to shine the light of your love, peace and justice on others. And may the Light of the World shine brightly and widely because of our Kingdom actions. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark, Retired Minister & Member of Bridport United Church