It must have been somewhat disturbing. Not the footwashing part, so much. Footwashing back in the days of Jesus was fairly common practice. The extraordinary thing was not “the what,” but “the who.” Jesus turned an ordinary event…in fact an event which no one typically paid any attention to… into something amazing.
Jesus was the one who was supposed to have his feet washed. That was the expected code of behavior. Instead, we know what happened. The master, the leader, the teacher, the rabbi, the host of the meal himself was the one down on his knees. Jesus intentionally chose the lesser place at the table. The place of the servant who would be expected to wash the feet of the guests.
I imagine the disciples were profoundly unsettled by Jesus that night. Both anxious and suspicious of this Lord who chose not to lord over them. This master was unlike other masters because he did not command his disciples to go go go until they were bone tired and stressed out from relentless activity. This master recognized that his disciples needed time in their daily routines for things like rest and prayer and peace.
And to prove his point at the end of one especially busy and eventful day, Jesus knelt down and paid careful attention to the feet of his friends. He filled a basin full. Then he gently splashed their feet with the cool, refreshing water. He took care to wipe away all the dust and the dirt and the grime…no small task when we’re talking about feet that have wandered across a dusty Galilean countryside. Then he wiped their feet with a towel. One disciple after another until he had washed each pair of feet. Twenty four feet in all. Including the two feet of the infamous disciple who would soon betray him.
The whole thing was so unexpected. And at the same time, it was so embarrassing. Can you picture the disciples in this story baffled by the sight of Jesus as he worked his way around the circle? Glancing at each other in bewilderment, wondering how they were supposed to behave while Jesus went about his humble task. How is a person supposed to act in response to Christ’s undeserved and extravagant kindness?
And when Jesus finished, he told each of his friends to go and imitate him. “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet,” he said, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet. May it never be said of Jesus that he lacked a flair for the dramatic.
If the truth be told, the disciples were probably hoping for something different from Jesus. Maybe something a little more grandiose, like the promise of a golden throne for each of them up in God’s heaven. Or at the very least, some glory and a few more daily perks on earth. As soon as they found out Jesus wanted to enlist them in foot duty, I suspect they were less than enthused.
Nevertheless, Jesus was crystal clear. The best way for the disciples to follow him was to serve others. In fact, the best way for any person to follow Jesus is to serve others…
Which brings us to this morning’s worship service. The theme of this service listed on the front of the bulletin is “Volunteer Recognition Sunday.” So this morning we’re recognizing all the people who volunteer in so many ways here at Wapping Community Church. All of you and each one of you who give of yourself and your time and your talent by praying for those around you and by singing to the glory of God. By writing notes to those who are hospitalized and homebound and by calling people and calling on people who are lonely and grieving. By serving on boards and committees. By hosting Coffee Hours and handing out bulletins at the entrance to the sanctuary.
All of you and each one of you who work tirelessly to make these church grounds as beautiful as they are. You who teach Church school and Confirmation and you who advise our youth. You who fold the Parish Post and answer phones and help in the church office. You who serve on one of the guilds and you who knit prayer shawls and baby blankets and you who create beautiful receptions for grieving families at the end of a funeral service. You who unlock the church doors early in the morning and lock them up late at night.
You who are fundraisers and facilitators. You who are caregivers and compassion bearers. You who are evangelists and encouragers. You who spread the word about this church in our community and you who spread the tablecloth across the communion table and you who spread mulch across the garden in the back of the property and you who spread laughter every time you stand up here in front of the congregation. You who lead us in prayer, and you who lead us in dialogue and conversation and you who lead us in mission outside our church doors and far beyond.
You make this place as special and as sacred as it is…and I know you don’t do all these things and more because you want to be recognized in some huge way. Or because there’s something in it for you at the end of the day. You do all these things and more because you love Wapping Community Church. And you love the people of Wapping Community Church.
So I stand before you this morning to say thank you and to express my deep gratitude for all the ways you volunteer at Wapping Community Church. All of you reflect the undeniable glory of God alive and well in this place. And each of you is a precious and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
But I want to go back for a moment to the theme of this service. Volunteer Recognition Sunday. As a title, it’s not bad. On the other hand, to me, this Sunday is about serving. And the name that fits more closely is “Servanthood Sunday.” This is a day when we remember the way in which Jesus Christ served his friends. And then called his friends, in turn, to serve others in his name.
In the name of Jesus Christ, then, we lift up this morning all who serve Wapping Community Church so faithfully and so tirelessly and so well. May God’s blessing rest upon you and upon this congregation as we seek to serve one another and the world in the many days to come.
An explanation of the handwashing ritual and the refrain…
“as Jesus serves us, we serve one another.”