What wondrous love is this? (Maundy Thursday Sermon)

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.”

Portion of reading from John 13:1-17, 31b-35

When I read this story, I know who to root for. I know in the back of my mind that Peter is just being ridiculous, that he should let Jesus wash his feet. Peter doesn’t know what he’s saying when he’s saying no, this is part of how the story goes, Jesus is supposed to wash the feet of his disciples. You and I know what’s coming—the crucifixion, the resurrection, the rest of the story. This is just part of the story.

But Peter, after all, knows that Jesus is Lord, even if he doesn’t know quite what that means, so what are we to make of the fact that he says no to this simple, servant-like gesture? What would we say if we were faced with Jesus kneeling at our feet, insisting upon washing them? Jesus, this isn’t where you’re supposed to be.

When Jesus kneels at my feet, I don’t know what… to do. It is uncomfortable, Jesus you’re not supposed to be here. It’s too close, it’s too intimate, it’s all too much for me. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

The Christ, who kneels at my feet and at yours too, begs to move beyond the boundaries that we have for where he is allowed. Outside of the box that we have so neatly put him in, outside of Sunday mornings, beyond the grace at meals. And if, like me, you find this terrifying… you are right. The radical, wondrous love offered to us, or even foisted upon us can be completely overwhelming. It can be a little too much, a little too close, a little too intimate. Maybe we too want to say, Lord, you will never wash my feet. I’m not ready. It’s all too much.

As we walk through Holy Week, through the Triduum, perhaps you may find that it at some point becomes too much. Perhaps it will be the footwashing, the Christ in your neighbor washing your feet. Perhaps it will be the Eucharist, the story of how he, who “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”. Perhaps it will be the stripping of the altar, or the silence of Good Friday. Perhaps it’s been a long week and church is just another thing to check off the list.

Be gentle with yourself. With others around you. And when, if that moment comes, allow yourself to be caught up in the overwhelm and mystery. We’re not always ready, but sometimes, the Lord will wash our feet anyways, and in response, the only thing we can ask is the question–what sort of love is this?

What wondrous love is this, that says “this is my body, my blood, given for you”? What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord to lay aside his crown for my soul?

What wondrous love is this, who washes the feet of the disciples, a servant, not in power, but in humility?

What wondrous love is this, who took up his cross, to give his life as a ransom for many?

What wondrous love is this, that brought us here tonight, to share this meal with one another?

And if we find ourselves caught in this moment like Peter, seeing the Christ who asks to love us, to be let out of the words on the page and into the deepest parts of our lives… If we find ourselves in this place, consider lingering there. For it is Christ who knocks at the doors of our hearts and homes. And sometimes, the only response we can sing is a question: what wondrous love is this?

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