Sermon for Holy Thursday Morning (One Year Series), preached on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
There is far too much romance about foot washing. The attraction is easy to understand. It is easier to wash feet than to face complicated doctrines like this bread is really Jesus’ body and this cup is His blood. So the great temptation is to reduce all of Christianity to an ethic or moral compass and nothing shows it better than the humble shape of a person of great station kneeling to wash the feet of someone lesser. If nothing else, it takes the guilt away from the person who has much to think that he has done something humble and selfless for the sake of another. It is all so easy to get but it is not what it is about at all.
We are not asked by Jesus to re-enact foot washing or really to duplicate anything He does at all. What we do in Church and what we do heeding His commandment to love does not re-enact what Jesus did or repeat what Jesus did in any way shape or form. The foot washing is a powerful symbol but not a recipe for how we ought to love one another. In fact, it would be far easier to do something distasteful like washing the feet of another once a year than to love your brother, your sister, your neighbor, or even a stranger every day of the year. I would much prefer an annual duty to stinky, misshapen, and ugly feet to loving people I don’t know or don’t like. I wonder if you just might secretly feel the same way.
The love Christ has for us is not something we are called to repeat as if it were an action, an event, a duty. No, this is not some task He has assigned to us. It is the gift of being remade, of being new, of being different. He calls us to love not because this is a good thing or something we ought to do. No, He calls us to love because He has remade us in love. He calls us to cast aside the old man, at least as best we are able, and to strive to be the new man, created in Christ Jesus for good works that flow from new and clean hearts made new in baptism.
The sadness is that we find it not only easier but more pleasant to do a good deed here and there rather than to seek to strive to become the new people who love righteousness and who hate evil. The sadness is that we prefer a religion in which we do things we think will please God rather than a faith that moves us to love others as our Lord has loved us.
It is not hard to love the lovable but it takes the hard love for those who are hard to love. He has seen us as we are, complete with all our sin, with all our rebellious hearts, and with all our arrogant pride. He sees us as we are and He loves us enough to give Himself up for us. Jesus does not love us for who we could become or the people we should become. He loves us even in our sins and loves us enough to bear the curse of those sins upon His own shoulders. He loves us even though we are dead and He enters our death to set us free.
By nature I don’t want that kind of love. Instead, I want the love that caters to my whims and desires. I do not want to control those desires or kill them or bury them. I want the love that will honor those desires and encourage them. That is the shape of our sinful hearts that cannot be rehabilitated but must be killed and made new. That is the love of the Savior who came not to be served but to serve, with an apron and a basin and a towel before dirty, ugly feet. The love that was willing to suffer in our place and to die for us the death we should have died and to rise to give us new life.
Foot washing once a year would be easy if you could get away with it. It might even be easier if we were commanded to wash feet in Church every Sunday and then go home to our sinful ways so comfortable. But Jesus has called us to new life and a noble calling as the children of God by baptism and faith. We cannot afford a cheap faith anymore than we can benefit from cheap grace. The love that loved us, that lives in us by baptism and faith is love not to recreate a moment in time but for time without end.
This love is shown not by the occasional washing of feet but by daily forgiving as we have been forgiven, by daily serving others as Christ has served us, by praying for others before we pray for our selves, by interceding before God’s throne of grace for our enemies as well as our friends, by giving to those who cannot repay, and by giving to others the good news of the Gospel that Christ has given to us – a prize so expensive none can afford it and yet one which He bestows without charge to us.
Foot washing is the easy way out. Love is more. Where do we find such love today? Here in this wondrous sacrament which the Lord has bequeathed to us. Here in the Word that speaks with the voice of God. Here in the household of faith where we bear one another’s burdens. Here where neighbors and poor and even strangers are not burdens but opportunities. I wish we could get away with stinky feet once a year but God has made us see and love more. Love one another as I have loved you.