This sermon was given by Bishop Mark of Bolton on Maundy Thursday 2022. Here it is for you again.
It is lovely to be with you on this Maundy Thursday, that special day in the church’s year when we recall the Last Supper, the Footwashing and the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed; it feels like too much for one day rather like a triple decker chocolate cake from Slattery’s!
So I am going to confine myself to the foot washing which is a rich topic in itself as we reflect on our Gospel reading from John 13
John comments that it was the Passover and so paints the picture that all that was to happen over the following hours was God’s great drama of redemption first seen at the Exodus – the drama of rescuing God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised Land. For Jesus and us it is God’s great act of forgiveness and a new start and reconciliation that we find in the Cross
John then comments that Jesus’ hour had come. All through the Gospel thus far Jesus had been saying “my time has not come” “My hour is not yet”. But Now is the time, now the hour has drawn near, the climax of his own mission had arrived to bring people and the world back to God by his death and resurrection.
John next comments that this all stems from Love, “having loved his own, he loved them to the uttermost”. All that was going to happen was an outflow of the love of God for you and for me and for the whole world. There is nothing more that love could do. And being love, none of us is forced to respond but we are freely invited to do so.
And that love is supremely seen in the footwashing. In a few hours time, Jesus will have his robes forcibly stripped from him. He will be given in exchange a crown of thorns. But here and now what happens? Hear again the Gospel’s voice. “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet”. In other words, Jesus knowing that he had all the power and the status and the glory, took deliberately the role of a servant – he used his power to serve others
That use of power and authority and status to love and to serve and to save not only describes what Jesus did but becomes a model for us all to follow. Wouldn’t our world be a different place if those with power in the world used their power in this way rather than for their own benefit??
So how do we respond?
This is where the incident with Peter comes into play. Its quite comical really Peter insisting No no no you’ve got it the wrong way round! I should be serving you. But Jesus insists.
So here is the thing – we all I think identify with Peter here. We want to serve Jesus – that must be the right way. But Jesus says if you want to serve me, if you want to serve others, you need to let me serve You first. We need to receive from Christ in order to serve Christ and serve the world. And tonight we do this in the footwashing and in the Eucharist – we come back to Jesus once again and receive from Him – in fact, we receive Him!
George Herbert’s poem Love bade me welcome expresses this superbly:
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
That last verse says, And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame? Referring to the Cross of Christ where all our sins were taken and forgiven and the person responds My dear, then I will serve – in other words like Peter saying No let me wash your feet. But Jesus Love insists You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.
May we come to Christ afresh tonight and receive him, receive his love and know his presence for only then can we serve and reach out to others with the love of Christ. Amen
Bishop Mark of Bolton