Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; John 13: 1-15
This evening marks the beginning of this three day retreat as it was meant to be, when the great feast and the hour that Jesus had anticipated had finally come together. If you were at the Seder Meal you know it’s true of our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as they prepare for their great feast beginning at sundown tomorrow. They don’t gather simply to remember with a sense of nostalgia of days gone by, the good old days or anything like that. Rather, there’s a retelling of the story to make it our own, in this very moment, when once again the great feast and the hour join in the person of the incarnate Love. We open with this first Easter prayer with the washing of the disciples’ feet as we hear in John’s Gospel.
Jesus seems to move now with great intention towards his own moment just as Israel does in this moment of Passover. They are to eat with great urgency and intention as they enter into this exodus experience. As the reading tells us today they find themselves in Egypt without any ability whatsoever to love Pharaoh for what has been inflicted upon this community. It’s hard to love someone who has brought about so much pain in their lives, living lives of oppression, and the only true desire is freedom, the Promised Land. The feast and the hour has come for Israel. Yet, they don’t even quite know what it is that they seek freedom from or for. No sooner they find themselves freed from the hand of Egypt they want to go back. They had become comfortable in their own darkness, pain, and hate towards this way of life. To love seems nearly impossible.
Yet, thousands of years later the Son comes down from heaven and takes on human flesh for that very reason and tonight, for John, it’s where it all begins to align. Notice with this gathering, unique to John, all are present. Not only the one who denies Jesus in that hour but the one who denies. In this very moment Judas becomes the archetypal character in John’s Gospel. It even seems to be anticipated by Jesus in this moment. As the pressure seems to mount, Judas falls for the ways of the world and succumbs to the hostility that seems to have been gathering around Jesus leading to the alignment of the great feast and the anticipated hour.
This is precisely the moment John waits for and anticipates. Not only does God come down from heaven and take on flesh, become human, but now this same God sets in motion this downward trend to his knees to wash the disciples’ feet before taking the paramount downward trend to the depths of the earth when he faces his own impending death. Yet, no one is excluded. This love doesn’t seem to have the boundaries that would have been anticipated or expected of God. Rather, Jesus gathers at table with not only the one who denies but the one who betrays. Judas stands as the character who represents the hostility and violence of the world, all that is hated, manipulated, coldness, and hatred, and it’s precisely his feet that are washed. For John, the great gift of God taking on flesh is precisely that, to love in such a way that this love is even extended to the world who has turned on him. In an act that appears to them to be quite humiliating, in the washing of their feet, stands as an act of humility that gets down in order to transcend the hatred of the world. That’s the first Easter prayer that we remember, connect with, and are challenged by in this retreat gathering. It is this great act of love that is to be modeled in service to even the one who has shown hate and hurt.
And so I ask, who is it that you can’t bring yourself to love? Who? Is it a loved one who has hurt you and you still have not been able to forgive? Get down and wash their feet. Is it someone who has wronged you in life? Get down and wash their feet? Is it me or the Church? Get down and wash their feet. Is it the President of this country? Wash his feet. Is it the teenagers who seem to be challenging the status quo? Wash their feet. Is it someone who has betrayed you in this life? Wash their feet. John does not necessarily write to a specific community as the other gospel writers but instead writes in a way that challenges a community to become someone else, to become love incarnate and to love in the way that Christ had shown to his disciples. When we hold onto hatred, anger, resentment, hurt, and certainly our pride, we remain trapped in Egypt under the hand of Pharaoh. Like Israel, and certainly the community that John anticipated, they often weren’t even aware of what it was they needed to be freed from nor certainly for the purpose in which they had been created as community.
As we enter into this communal celebration of our Easter prayer, the prayer is simply for the desire to love as Jesus loves. To call to mind all who have hurt us and all who continue to seem to have control over our lives. In those moments, all the Peter’s and Judas’s of our lives are called to mind, and like Jesus, we stoop down to the depths of our own being, in what can feel like great humiliation, and ask for the grace of humility to be set free in order to love. Who is it I still am not willing to love in such a way? Tonight the feast and the hour have arrived and finally arrive for anticipated change in our own lives. Who is it? Wash their feet.