John 13: 1-15
John begins his Gospel with the “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Some scripture scholars would say that this passage we hear tonight and are quite familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet, is the turning point in the gospel and the consummation of that Word becoming flesh and dwelling among them, as he takes off his outer garments, kneels down, and washes the disciples feet. In that one act of love, Jesus consummates the relationship with his disciples and when who he is and what he is about comes together in John’s Gospel. We heard the beginnings of that from Saint Paul on Palm Sunday in his letter to the Philippians, in his beautiful canticle…emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself. Takes off his garments, kneels down, washes the feet of the disciples.
It leaves them quite uncomfortable and bewildered by Jesus’ actions. They don’t know what to make of it and why he would do such a thing, which is why Peter questions. They’re left feeling uncomfortable because they come with certain expectations. Certainly in John’s Gospel, as we will hear tomorrow from that Passion reading, there is a much more kingly approach to Jesus and so watching him in this act of love, even though they don’t see it as that, leaves Peter and the others wondering. Why would this “king” do something beneath them? The status that they expect of Jesus doesn’t match the act of love being modeled and given. They can’t receive the love being given by Jesus. Yet, the very act pushes them to their limits and Jesus gets there where they need to be, on the edge, uncomfortable, where God does some of his best work at bringing about conversion in our hearts, where the Word made flesh breaks in and acts in ways that so often leave us feeling bewildered and wondering.
On these days we enter into, we are often invited into uncomfortable experiences of ritual that often leave us questioning in the same way and can we receive the outpouring of love that is being given to us. We are invited into seeing ourselves having our feet washed. Taking off his outer garments, kneeling down, washing our feet. We are invited into the stripping of the altar, often leaving us uncomfortable because it stretches us from the norm and we’re pushed to look at things differently. Jesus takes off his garments and the altar is stripped to nothing. Taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, humbling himself, vulnerable before his disciples inviting them to do and be the same.
If you find yourself being pushed this evening and throughout these experiences of some of the most sacred rituals the next couple of days, stay with that. It’s where God wants to meet us. It’s where God does great work. It’s where God consummates the relationship with us, breaking in as Word made flesh, stripping himself of all, vulnerable, humble, conversion happening in ways beyond understanding. I have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s. When we allow ourselves to be pushed to that place of vulnerability in our lives, we become the love that is given. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”