Note that the sermon notes for today and the next two weeks assume that the pastor has chosen to offer this series from a seated position at a dining table. Depending on your sanctuary space and the best location for your table, you may be seated either at a standard height dining table or on a stool at a bar-height table. We hope you will consider giving preaching a try from this position. Our hope is that it will lead to a more relaxed, conversational, personal and intimate style of preaching than you would be able to achieve either from behind a pulpit or from a standing position. Imagine yourself around a table with a few of your parishioners at a coffee shop, or meeting a favorite teacher after class, or a trusted friend after work, in an informal place, having a relaxed, very personal conversation.
In our reading today, we hear Jesus offering a series of final words, final thoughts, final reflections, and final instructions for his eleven remaining disciples (Judas has left). The setting for this lengthy and personal conversation (known as the “Farewell Discourse”) is around a table in a private home in Jerusalem. It is the night before the crucifixion. And so, as we begin listening to the words of our Lord, let us imagine ourselves there, around the table, in a private space. Just us. No crowds. No accusers. No political figures or priests. No betrayers. Just Jesus and his trusted friends.
Jesus had already told his disciples, before the festival of Passover, that he knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. He knew the time was near, and he wanted to spend his final evening with his disciples. He invited them to share a final meal, a last supper, with him.
So here they are, around a table. They’ve eaten dinner, and things have gotten quiet. It’s a small room, dimly lit on this dark night.
According to the gospel writer John, who is telling us this story, during the meal Jesus got up from the table. He brought a basin and a towel, and he knelt down and began to wash the feet of his followers. One by one, he went around the table to each of them.
Well, the disciples, especially Peter, were upset by what he was doing. They felt that it was wrong for their teacher to be washing their feet. They thought it ought to be the other way around. But Jesus insisted that he was trying to teach them something important, not just with his words, but by his actions. As he took Peter’s dusty, tired, road-weary foot in his hands, he looked right in Peter’s eyes and said, “No. It’s okay. Just relax and listen. I want you to listen to me and I want you to remember. Not only should you allow me to wash your feet, but you should wash each other’s feet. In fact, you should wash the feet of everyone you meet.”
Jesus kept going. He moved on to the next man, knelt before him, and took another foot in his hands. As he washed he said, “I want you to remember that servants are not greater than their masters, nor are messengers greater than the one who sends them.”
As he makes his way around to each man he continues speaking. “My friends, I am going away soon. And I have something else I need you to hear. Something you must all remember. This is the most important thing. Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you. It will be by your love that other people will know that you were my disciples.”
So this is the scene. This is what has just happened when Peter breaks in and asks Jesus where he is going, and Jesus responds with these very familiar lines that we all know because we hear them read at funerals and memorial services. These deeply personal, heartfelt, painful words. Words of comfort for others, while painful to Jesus, spoken in this most intimate setting, to his disciples. Spoken to his friends with whom he has just shared a meal. Spoken to his followers who have traveled with them for three years, and whose feet he has just washed, one by one. Spoken on the night before his crucifixion and death.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in this most personal way? Can you help your congregation to hear him speaking to them, personally? What do you think he is saying? Do you trust in his promise? Show your congregation, through your words, your body language, and your tone of voice, your transparent spirit, that deep down in your heart, you do trust in his promise for yourself and for them.
Here is the good news! Becoming one in Christ is not something we do. It is not our work! It is not our burden! It is God’s work. It is something that God in Christ does for us.
Our unity with Christ is the result of Jesus reaching out to touch—to embrace our feet in his hands, to embrace our lives in his arms—each of us, one at a time. Jesus reaches out and draws us to him. It is Christ who makes us one. He makes us one by uniting us, first to himself, and second, to one another. (But that’s a topic for next week.)
We only have to make a decision about whether we will trust him. Our role is to decide whether we will allow him to embrace us, draw us to him, into unity with God and the Holy Spirit, and into unity with one another. Our role is to say yes to his invitation to be creatures of community rather than individualism.
But we have to say yes. We have to say yes to the invitation of Jesus. We have to allow ourselves to be embraced and allow others to be embraced alongside us.
This isn’t essentially about what we can do. It is about what God does for us that we can’t do for ourselves.
We have received the invitation.
Can we open our hearts, our minds, and our spirit to the One who has issued the invitation?
Can we believe into him?
Can we allow ourselves to be embraced into Christ’s heart?
Can we allow ourselves to be embraced into God’s home?