(This is the continuation of the sermon that invited us into the journey of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. You can find it here. And our journey does not end here…)
“There you are. Come with me, we found a place, dinner’s ready. I thought we’d lost you.” She beckons out of the crowd, her hand catches yours and she leads you away from the noise and the crowds. Away from the shops and the last minute preparations for the holiday. Out of the sun, the dust. Take a deep breath and climb the narrow steep stairs up to a rough old wood door. The noise of the city traffic, the needs of the day, the pressure of time fades as we climb. Knock quietly on that solid door, standing there in the muffled darkness; and it opens just enough for us to slip inside.
The room we enter is lit by flickering lamp light, curtains drawn across the windows, the door shut tight to keep the city at bay. The noise of the street is gone, replaced by the gentle hum of conversation among people who know each other intimately, who know one another’s joys and sorrows. The room is full, the long low table set with dinner surrounded by people sitting cross legged on cushions, or leaning against one another. There hardly seems room for one more, but as the door closes two bodies part, moving aside to make room at the table for we late comers.
The smell of warm fresh bread and hummus spiced with garlic mingles with roast lamb, bitter greens, and the sweet perfume of figs and ripe melons. You tear off a wedge of bread and dip it into the humus. Peter and John are arguing quietly about something near the head of the table. You see that Lazarus has come, he and Thomas talk quietly together, dipping their bread in olive oil and sharing a plate of olives. Martha slips in from behind a curtain with yet more food. The Marys sit around you, eating together, faces serious and heads bowed close as they talk.
As you look around the room at all the well known faces, it is a familiar scene, only a few days before many of the same people reclined in the home of Simon the Leper. You can almost still smell the sweet spicy scent of the perfume, and just as it did in that other house on that other night, the buzz of conversation goes silent, again. You turn toward the head of the table and see that it is Jesus who command’s every eye in the room.
He has left the head place, and everyone watches as he walks slowly around the room to the foot of the table where the women and children eat. He kneels there at their feet, setting down a heavy bowl full of steaming water. He has stripped off his robe, and tied a towel around his waist like a servant. And he is kneeling at Mary’s feet with a bowl! Silently, gently, he washes her feet, dries them with the towel and then turns to his mother, then to a stunned silent Martha, for once still. And so around the table he goes. Lifting the heavy bowl, moving a few feet, kneeling, washing, drying, all in silence so loud you can hear the rush of blood in your ears.
Until he kneels before you. Your heart begins to pound, you feel the heat rise in your cheeks. “Jesus!” You whisper, trying not to look at anyone. “What are you doing? I don’t deserve this, I’m a terrible disciple, I was late tonight, I’m afraid half the time, I don’t understand most of what you say, I’m not even sure I want to, some of it seems impossible. I haven’t kept the commandments. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. Please.”
He takes your foot firmly in rough carpenter’s hands and guides it to the bowl, the warm water closes over your tired foot and strong fingers massage your aches and pains. You catch sight of Peter who looks outraged, and Mary, who is crying silently. Jesus catches your attention as he leans forward, his eyes meet yours and he smiles. “One of my friends will help kill me, most of my friends will deny me. None of you understand. None of you are good at this. That’s not why I chose you. And that is why I must wash you, dear friend. There is no where you have walked that I have not washed away, no stain on your heart that I can’t wash out.
I am washing you, you will do the same when I am gone.”
As he finishes speaking he wipes the last beads of water from your feet and sets them gently back on the cool floor. He turns to Judas beside you, tenderly cradling his feet, speaking soft words into his friend’s ear. Not surprisingly outraged Peter has something to say when it is his turn, but he too relents. When Jesus is done he sits back down on the floor in the flickering lamp light.
“You did not understand when my friend anointed me with perfume. But do you understand now?” He shakes his head, looking suddenly like a big brother worrying over his foolish young siblings. “You will. When it has all been done, know all that matters: I love you. You are my friends. And so I am giving you this one command, this one request. Do for one another as I have done for you. Every day of your lives. Ease pain, forgive, comfort, heal what is broken, dry the tears of the broken hearted, lift up the weak, feed the hungry, take care of one another. And for my sake, let your friend’s care for you. This is how you love one another, this is how you testify to me.”
His eyes say he knows it will not be easy, but as you reach out the squeeze the trembling hand of your neighbor the words are all that remains. Love one another.