John 13: 1 – 17; 31 – 35
The farewell tear
a feast of friendship
a story of betrayal
a memory of gifts given.
You look with such intense love
on each one gathered there,
mist covers your deep brown eyes
as you hold each one in your gaze,
you close your eyes and I see a farewell tear of friendship
as it follows the curve of your check.
You take the bread,
bless it gently and profoundly,
with old words and new
(do you mean to say it is yourself?)
And then the wine, again with words old and new.
(do you mean to say this, too, is now yourself?)
You look again at each one there
and give the eternal gift:
“Remember me and do the same.”
Like those around the table then,
so with us who gather now,
if we knew how close our hearts
are held inside of yours,
we would always be amazed
that you meant this for us, too.
How shall we ever be brave enough
to do what you have done, love as you have loved…..
Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary, Ave Maria Press, 2000*
At the death bed of a beloved friend one wonders, “What else can I do? What else can I say?” A common custom in many cultures for those tending the dying is the vigil of the bath. Warm, wet clothes are used to wipe away the final sorrows of the dying and offer comfort at the time of passing. This is a blessed ritual in keeping with what used to be called “the last rites” or last prayers before one passes on into the arms of God. The intimate act of bathing another is an extreme example of love. I was never sure who the bath was really for: the living or the dying.
In tonight’s Gospel text we hear the story of Jesus’ actions as he bathes the feet of his disciples, the ones he loves to the end. We hear of his final gifts to them, the bathing and the meal. The image of water is a profound one in the Gospels. We hear of water as a significant part of the baptismal experience for Jesus. Jesus uses water in his first miracle as he turns water into wine. Jesus calms the waters of the Sea of Galilee causing the people to be amazed and take in the first glimpses of his divinity. Jesus sends the blind man to the pool of Siloam to wash away mud so that the man’s sight might be restored. And now, Jesus, the one facing death does a final act of ritual bathing with his disciples, the ones he loves to the end. These must be something in this bathing, this water that we need to grasp; a message somewhere in the water and his words and his actions that give us, today’s listener of the Gospel an enlightenment on this Maundy Thursday.
“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe and had returned to the table, he said to them, Do you know what I have done for you?” John 13:12
What did Jesus DO on this night of water, last meals, betrayal and tears? Jesus, as teacher, is setting an example of love, humble, servant love that he calls his disciples, the one he loves to the end to follow.
“For I have set an example, that you also should do as I have done.” John 13: 15
The act of washing another is a sensitive, intimate gesture of love; an act of shared cleansing. Ritualistic bathing is meant to wash away the old and prepare for the new. Water gives new life to old wine, washes away sin and restores sight. Water has the power to kill and Jesus has power over water. In water and the WORD we learn of new life, a new creation in Christ. In today’s text we are called to a spiritual intimacy with one another in Christ, an intimacy which comes only after we wash away the old us and embrace the new us in Christ. Jesus replaces bath water with a commandment - “Now go and love one another just as I have loved you.” In the act which is ritualized tonight in foot washing, Jesus says that all will know you are his disciples in your great, unabashed love for one another. Water cleanses, water heals, water changes hearts. The one who is about to die offers a bath to the ones he loves as a reminder that they too should serve as did he.
“You look again at each one around the table then, so with us who gather now, and give the eternal gift:
“Remember me and do the same”
If we knew how close our hearts are held inside of yours, we would be amazed…”*