Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
My sermon from Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018) on John 13:1-17, 21-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
I am not an actor. And I don’t know much about what it's like to be one. I’ve never taken an acting class and I couldn’t tell why Frances McDormand deserved the best actress Oscar this year instead of Meryl Streep. I don’t understand the process of “acting” but I love listening to actors talk about their life as an actor. I want to know what their auditions are like, the words they use when they text casting directors, and how they survive emotionally, physically, and spiritually when it takes, on average, 64 auditions before they get a part. I love hearing about the process of life that surrounds being an actor. And one place I go to learn more about the acting life is a podcast called The West Wing Weekly. Each week, this podcast talks about one specific episode of the TV show The West Wing. Now, that show hasn’t been on the air in over a dozen years. But through the power of Netflix, anyone can rewatch the series as much as they want. The West Wing Weekly does a great job digging into the details of each show and reacting to them from a very 2018 point of view. It’s a fun podcast for anyone who’s a fan of the show. But my favorite part of the whole podcast is when they interview an actor who appeared on the show. And they, literally, will interview anyone. They’ve spoken to actors who only had one scene, as well as the main stars of the show like Martin Sheen. Last November, they talked to Clark Gregg, who had a minor recurring role on The West Wing as FBI agent Michael Caspar. I know Clark him better as another special agent named Phil Coulson, who is THE non-superpowered star of the Marvel Comic Book movie universe. Now, Clark Gregg is a guy who has lived the actor’s life. He spent years selling hair accessories on the street while waiting for his career to take off. And he once pretended that he didn’t know the horrible review that appeared in the newspaper so he wouldn’t ruin an opening night party. During the interview on The West Wing Weekly, stories kept falling out of him. They’re just too many good ones to mention. But the one that jumped out at me started with a table. Whether you are a fan of The West Wing or not, all of us have to admit that the calibre of actors on that show was amazing. Clark was honored to be with them on the show. He loved watching them work and seeing what each brought to their roles. Now, on a tv show, not every actor is in every scene. And since scenes are filmed at different times and in different locations, actors usually don’t know how an episode will play out until it’s broadcasted on tv. But one thing Clark experienced on The West Wing was the table read. Before filming began and before everyone headed off to do their own specific thing, the actors, writers, and directors gathered around the table to read, and begin acting out, the episode. Every actor involved in that episode would be there and everyone who hear how their role fit into the wider story. Seeing the big picture and watching each other work made such an impact on Clark that when he became the star of his own tv show, he made sure that every actor would know the full story by starting with a table read.
And tonight, we sort of did a similar thing. Every Maundy Thursday, we hear these same verses from the gospel according to John. The disciples are eating a meal with Jesus; Jesus washed their feet; Peter freaked out; and we’re told to love “one another.” In our culture, washing each other’s feet isn’t a normal thing. But in Jesus’ time, when hygiene was poor, roads were dusty, and everyone wore open-toed shoes, washing feet before you entered someone’s home was completely normal. The foot washer was usually a servant or a slave, the person on the lowest rung on the social ladder because the act, while necessary, was seen as dirty and demeaning. The host at a dinner party would offer to wash your feet but they wouldn’t actually do it. But Jesus, in the middle of the meal, does it. That’s how we, as a church, traditionally choose to remember the night before Good Friday. By focusing on the story of Jesus doing something different, freaking out everyone in the room, and then telling all of us to “love one another.”
But tonight, we did a table read of our own. We expanded our experience of scripture by including some of the verses we usually leave out. After Jesus washed their feet, he shocked everyone again by saying someone would betray him. Everyone in that room was curious - so they asked Jesus, “who?” But instead of name dropping, Jesus gave a cryptic answer centered on a little piece of bread. And once Judas had this crumb, he fled into the night. It’s after this when Jesus says to “love one another.” Judas wasn’t there to hear this word from Jesus. But everyone in that room knew that the love Jesus was talking about was deeply connected to who was there when Jesus washed their feet. When we expand the story, when we have our own table read, we see that Judas was in the room. Jesus didn’t serve only his friends. He washed the feet of the one who would break his trust. Jesus even loved the one who betrayed him.
Most of us, I imagine, know what it’s like to be betrayed. We know what it’s like to hurt. We all carry with us stories, some we can articulate and others we can’t, about the different ways we’ve hurt ourselves and each other. Being betrayed is a very human experience - and one Jesus knows well. Yet tonight Jesus shows us, even commands us, to wash our betrayer’s feet. And that is just...hard. And in certain situations, when we’re under the threat of harm and violence, that command is impossible to do. So what can we do with this command to love and serve even those we know we can’t?
Well, to do that, we need a table. We need to table read. A table read isn’t something that can be done only by one person. A table read needs a community. When Clark Gregg gathered with the cast of The West Wing, everyone was there at the table. Every part of that community was needed to uncover the rest of the story. Jesus didn’t give this commandment to only one person. Instead, he gave it to everyone in that room. Each person is given by Jesus a responsibility to love one another. And since there’s more than one person in that room, the community of Jesus is called to love and serve too. Jesus’ call is a call we cannot fulfill only on our own. We need all of us, gathered around Jesus’ table, to help each of us love like he did. We need people who will take care of us when we are hurt and who will love the one we cannot. And when we hurt others, we need this community to hold each us accountable and to serve those we’ve hurt. Only when we are together, can this community, this part of the body of Christ in God’s beloved world, love and serve like Jesus did. The table we gather around tonight is a table meant for each of us - and is a table where our full story comes more fully into focused when we are apart of it. As individuals, we might not be able to love everyone; but together, as a community, we can love all.
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