The Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
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.
“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.”
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to You, LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. Amen
Message: We all have those phrases from our childhood don't we that come back to us. More often than not when we are saying them to our children.
One that comes to mind for me is: "What do you think you are doing?" I remember one particularly vivid memory from when I was around 15 to 16 years old. My parents had committed to renovating my grandparents house. We were living there as a family of six at the time. My grandparents had passed on, my parents were facing some financial challenges and had the opportunity to buy their small two-bedroom house.
One of the projects slated to happen was the removal of the wall between the dining room and the living room. The only complication was that there was a double-sided fireplace in the middle of the wall.
One Saturday morning my parents went out grocery shopping and I in my youthful enthusiasm thought well there is no need to pay someone to take out that fireplace. I can do that. That will save Mum and Dad some finance. Yeah, I can do that.
So it set to with a wheelbarrow and a small short-handled sledgehammer and a chisel. I started out working on removing the bricks, loading them into the wheelbarrow and carting them outside to stack them alongside the garage.
It was an old fireplace and the mortar was not all that strong and within a couple of hours, I had made great progress. I managed to remove a solid chunk of the fireplace.
I heard my parents pull into the driveway and I expected that I would be lauded and applauded for my ingenuity and initiative. My Dad walked into the room and his response was not what I expected. Let's just say his voice rose a couple of decibels and his tone was less than congratulatory. "What do you think you are doing?" he shouted at me. My Dad was sounding judgmental and critical of what I had attempted to do. Taken aback I stuttered and stumbled over my explanation that I figured I was being helpful. That by taking out the fireplace I thought I was helping to move the project along.
In my innocence and lack of building or renovating experience, I had begun deconstructing the fireplace from about waist height and up. So that the chimney was hanging unsupported in the ceiling and up into the roof. My Dad was quick to explain to me that the weight of the remaining chimney could at any moment bring the ceiling or indeed the roof collapsing into the house.
I was assigned the task of getting up on the roof and beginning to remove the chimney brick courses from the top. The way that I should have done it in the first place. This story has a relatively happy ending. The roof and the ceiling remained intact while I worked away at removing the weight of the chimney. Then I returned to the dining room and removed the bottom courses until we reached floor level. We lived with the gaping hole in the wall between the dining room and the living room for several weeks. Unbeknownst to me my Mum and Dad had not been planning to have a competent builder/contractor come in for several months and they had been talking generally, about what they might possibly do, sometime in the future. When they had budgeted for the work.
I am not sure I ever recovered my Dad's opinion of my competency or his assurance that he thought I could be trusted to be left alone ever again.
I would like to suggest that the question: "What do you think you are doing?" or its corollary question "What is the meaning of this?" occurs a lot in our lives. Or perhaps I should say they have occurred a lot in mine. Either with people asking the question of me or with me asking the question of someone else.
Since I have been Ordained. Since I have been a Priest I have heard that question a lot. Perhaps the question hasn't been phrased quite that way. Sometimes I have heard it as: "Don't you think we should....?" "Shouldn't we be...?"
Often I have found in talking to the person asking the question there is a sense of disappointment. There may even be a sense of judgment and criticism involved in the asking of the question.
Many times the question has to do with an aspect of liturgy. Sometimes it has to do with our form of worship. As a liturgical church, we do a lot of things to which people have attached significance or particular meaning. Now, sometimes that significance is related to an experience they have had in their past. Perhaps it is related to a particular group of people. Perhaps it has to do with a particular moment in their spirituality.
This past year, many of the things that we have done in the past, which hold particular significance for us, have not been possible. Tonight is an example of that. Tonight we should have engaged in the ritual of the washing of feet. Tonight I chose to do something different. Tonight I washed my hands on behalf of us all as a symbolic representation of what Jesus talks about in the Gospel.
I am sure that someone somewhere asked the question: "What do you think you are doing?" I am sure that someone somewhere was asking: "What is the meaning of this?"
I hope that tonight we will be challenged to think again for ourselves about why we do the things that we do in our religious and spiritual practices. That we might ask ourselves "What do you think you are doing?" or "What is the meaning of this?" Not in an accusatory or judgmental way. But hopefully in a sincere and devout seeking to understand what it is that we are doing. In the Gospel reading for this evening, we see and hear the disciples asking those questions. Jesus challenges their established understanding, he challenges their established practices. He challenges them to begin walking with him in a new understanding of the opportunity that is before them. My prayer for us all is that as we journey through this Holy Week, and through the joyous celebration of the Sunday of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, that we will enter next week with a gift. That we will experience something new, something refreshing and enlivening, because of this challenging and different Holy Week and Easter.
My prayer is that our hearts will be softened. My desire is that we will be more open to the Lord Jesus' call to us. That we will find, in asking the questions: "What do you think you are doing?" or "What is the meaning of this?" that we will discover for ourselves the heart of what we believe and what we will seek to practice in this coming year.