Maundy Thursday Sermon (John-13:1-17,31b-35)

May our hearts and minds be open to the Word of the Lord
And may the Word of the Lord open our hearts and minds.

Many of us like pub quizzes and there are various questions that seem designed to catch the contestants out; but you can only be caught out if you don’t listen and truly don’t know the answer.

Here’s one for you; what company produces the largest number of tyres in the world?

No, it’s not Dunlop, or Firestone, or Michelin; it is…

Lego! (In 2011 they made 318 million tyres)

Here’s another for you;

What is the state capitol of California?

Many might say Los Angeles or perhaps San Francisco. But quiz buffs (or of course Californians) know it’s Sacramento.

The name was originally given to the Sacramento River by Spanish explorers, the city came later.

When gold was discovered nearby in 1848 people flocked from all over the world, in what was to become known as the Gold Rush.

Imagine Sainsbury has broadcast that they have shelves full of toilet rolls and you’ll get the picture.

As thousands of hopeful pioneers headed towards California in search of a better life, Sacramento was built to accommodate them.

When California became a state just two years later, the town was already significant enough to be named the capitol. 

The name Sacramento means just what it looks and sounds like.

Specifically, the Spanish explorers named the river after “the Most Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ” 

The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, one of the two sacraments instituted by Jesus and recognised by all Christians, however much they might squabble about the others.

Today’s Gospel reading shows us the Last Supper.

While all the other Gospels record the origins of the Eucharist, John chooses to focus on another incident that occurred during the meal.

And perhaps there’s an allusion here to the other universally accepted sacrament; baptism.

The usual interpretation of this foot-washing scene is that it promotes service of others, in imitation of Jesus.

It does of course.

Commentators suggest it’s a practical example of the “new commandment” that Jesus gives afterwards’ to love one another as He loves us.

It is.

But it’s surely no accident that Jesus chose to use water, and cleansing, to illustrate a point.

Master of the practical example, Jesus also had a gift for choosing the most telling one.

Here, the comparison He draws between a complete bath and the washing of dusty feet is truly inspiring.

Whatever Peter’s reason for objecting (whether he was shocked by Jesus humbling Himself or offended that Jesus thinks he has dirty feet) his Lord and Teacher seizes the opportunity to teach him, the other disciples and us, something quite profound.

When we become Christian, our baptism into Christ cleanses us of the general sin that mars our fallen world.

We go down into the water (either totally immersed of symbolically splashed) just as Jesus will go down into the tomb on Good Friday,

But then we rise again with Him, cleaned by the power of His death and Resurrection that, together, triumph over sin.

Jesus predicts that Peter will only understand “later”.

Perhaps He means after the mind-blowing events of Easter.

Yet we all know that our daily lives are not totally free of sin.

As we walk through the world our feet pick up the dirt of doubt, anger, selfishness, jealousy.

All we need do is allow Jesus to wash away these impurities, in penitence and prayer.

We don’t need to be baptised again. Is this what Jesus is suggesting in His exchange with Peter?

Rather than retelling the story about the institution of Holy Communion, which John’s readers would already know very well, John may be referring to the other sacrament that identifies us as Christians.

But he records Jesus putting that into the context of loving service.

People we meet can’t see that we’ve been baptised, and if they’re not church goers they can’t see us sharing Holy Communion.

What really identifies us as Christians to the outside world is the practical outworking of our faith; loving others as God loved us in Jesus.

So, here’s the question; it’s not a pub quiz question, but it is one that we all need to think about.

How can we love others as Jesus loved us?

How can we show people that we are His disciples?

Of course, it begins in Church (and I don’t mean the church building) It begins in Church, in us; just as it began in the group around Jesus and later the community around John.

If the world see the Church embroiled in arguments over how many sacraments there are, the ungracious squabbles over what gender or what sexuality you should be to preside at the Lord’s table or lead a church, what kind of image does that portray of Jesus?

To identify ourselves as His disciples takes more than Baptism or Holy Communion.

It takes genuine humility.

Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples; the beloved disciple, the headstrong Peter; even Judas. 

Jesus washed the feet of all His disciples.                                                                         

In the Gold Rush, pioneers trekked across America to Sacramento in search of a better life.

In our Christian witness we can show people that the better life comes not from gold but from God.

We, too, need to be pioneers, stepping out in faith, to encourage others to join us; not in a pub quiz, not in a gold rush; but in a God rush.