“Do you know what I have done to you?”
This question comes after Jesus “strips, kneels, and washes—not himself but his followers,” as Professor William Brosend puts it. “Do you have any idea what this means?” he asks. John doesn’t tell us if the disciples respond with anything other than silence. Maybe they just don’t want to hazard a guess because of what he just did, in taking on the role of a servant. Notice none of them jumped up and grabbed the basin even though the menial job needed doing, and since it was just the thirteen of them. It’s like waiting for someone else to pick up the trash from a knocked over barrel: “I’m not gonna do it; you do it!” No one is itching to get their hands dirty, or take the low rung on the totem pole.
A Maundy Thursday Sermon on John 13.
Yet Jesus does. He strips his outer clothing, kneels in front of his disciples, and washes their feet. You can hear their discomfort in the words of Peter: “You will never wash my feet!” It isn’t right! You shouldn’t be doing this kind of work; make someone else do it. Like Bartholomew. He should do it.
But Jesus tells Peter that if he doesn’t let Jesus wash his feet, then Peter will have no share with him. Peter’s response is over the top, as it usually is, and then he finally relents and lets Jesus pour the water over his dirty feet, and dry them with a towel. When Jesus makes it around the table, he asks them that question: “Do you know what I have done to you?” Do you understand? Their silence leads Jesus to fill in the blanks for them. “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Wash others’ feet as I have washed yours. Serve others as I have served you.
A little later he gives them the CliffNotes version to make sure they got it: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It always comes back to love for Jesus. Putting others ahead of yourself in order to shower them with love, dignity, and respect. At this last meal with his disciples, he offers the lesson one more time. Love one another.
“If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?” That’s the final question Frederick Buechner asks us to consider during Lent, coming in just under the wire as we are less than 24 hours from Jesus’ own impending death. If you were living your last day, what would you fill it with?
You can go out onto the interwebs and hear a whole legion of different responses to that question. Things like traveling to exotic locations—because there’s nothing better than hopping on a plane for a 10 hour red-eye on your last day of life—or imbibing with friends. A lot of people include getting together with family or making phone calls to those they care about. Eating a favorite meal often tops the list. Others say they’d take in a favorite show or visit a museum. No one mentions washing feet.
Because serving others isn’t what we’d usually choose for our last day.
Yet Jesus is asking us not to do this just with our last day, but with all of the ones we have left. Author Annie Dillard asserts, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” What we do with this 24 hours and with the next, well, it all adds up, doesn’t it? It tells us who we are. Our calendars portray us more accurately than almost anything else. So when we’re asked to imagine our last day, we envision filling it with things we might not get to do that often. With things we don’t do often enough.
Love one another, Jesus says. And keep doing it. Spend your days showing it. Spend your life the same way. Choose love. Wash feet. Offer a cup of cold water. Visit the down trodden. Share a meal with those who mean the most to you, and with those you hardly know. Make time for God and each other. This is how everyone else will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
I’m not sure how you would answer Buechner’s question tonight, but you can show your intention to give and receive love by taking off your shoes and removing your socks, and allowing someone else to gently pour warm water over your feet. It’s a hard thing to do, but it allows us to open ourselves up to something far deeper than we could ever do on our own. There is no better way to live our lives than by giving and receiving love. There is no better way to spend a day. To spend a life. None of us knows when that last day will be, but we can make time each day for love, following in the way of Jesus.