Today, April 9, is Maundy Thursday. It is not “Monday Thursday,” as I thought when I was a child. Nor is it Maunday Thursday, as it is so often misspelled, but Maundy Thursday. The word “maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means commandment, referring to Jesus’ command to love one another. In Maundy Thursday services we commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper and the observance of footwashing.
Here is the scripture reading for Maundy Thursday.
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
13 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, 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 and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 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.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them
I share below a Maundy Thursday homily originally preached in the Oak Grove congregation in 2010.
CARPENTER HANDS My dad had big farmer hands, thick and powerful fingers, brown from the sun and from the soil. I imagine that’s what Jesus’ hands were like. Joseph had taught him to use tools and he spent a dozen or more years in the trade of furniture-maker. Using saw, lathe, mallet, plane, chisel. All lumber was hand-hewn. Jesus fashioned chairs, tables. I never thought about it before this week, but I imagine Jesus also fashioned more than one crutch. As he worked, he no doubt thought about the person who would receive it, about the accident or disease that had disabled the person. He realized how much the crutch would help the person. He must have hungered to do even more, to help the person to walk without a crutch, upright and free. Hands of a carpenter.
GESTURING HANDS In the fullness of time, perhaps when his younger brothers were old enough to take responsibility, Jesus left the carpentry shop. He began to teach. We can imagine him gesturing as he spoke. He so often used examples from nature. Perhaps he pointed at a bird or at the lilies of the field. And from time to time he would gesture to one of the listeners, and say, “Come, follow me.” And in those eyes and in those hands, there was something compelling. And people left their nets, and their tax collecting tables, and their brothels, and followed him. BECKONING HANDS
HEALING HANDS There was healing in those hands. Not just figurative healing, but literal. He touched people’s ears and restored their hearing, he made a poultice of mud and put it on the blind man’s eyes and he could see, he helped people to toss away their crutches. But more astonishing than any of these amazing events is one related very early in the gospel of Mark. A leper came to Jesus. In that culture any skin disease made the person ritualistically unclean. Anyone who touched a leper was himself made unclean. This man with leprosy could not touch his own wife or children or even live at home any longer.
This leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the man…unthinkable! Imagine eating off the plate of someone with swine flu or getting a blood transfusion from someone with AIDS. Jesus touched the man and made him well. HEALING HANDS
WELCOMING CHILDREN Jesus was important and had vital tasks to perform—healing the sick, teaching people the truths about God. He was much too busy to be bothered by children. In the ancient middle east children were neither seen nor heard. They were not second class citizens. They were tenth class citizens. They were kept out of the way by the women.
Jesus was much too important and too busy to be bothered by children. Or so his disciples thought. Jesus welcomed the little children, cradled them, dandled them on his knee and taught that they embodied the kingdom of God. WELCOMING HANDS
MULTIPLY LOAVES One time, thousands of people had followed Jesus into the countryside to hear him preach. The people became hungry and there was no pizza delivery way out there. A lad offered to share his lunch, two salted fish and five barley loaves, cheap bread. Jesus took those simple gifts and gave thanks and gave it to the disciples to spread among the people. So little for thousands of people! Yet everyone ate and the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers!
Some say it was a miracle of multiplication. Others say that until that time people had been hiding their own lunches that they had brought, because they didn’t want to have to share with the people around them. But once Jesus broke through the attitude of selfishness and passed around the five loaves, then everybody pulled out their own store from up their sleeves and inside their robes. They say it wasn’t a miracle of multiplication, it was simply everyone sharing. Which is the greater miracle? HANDS OF SHARING
WASHING FEET Washing feet was a necessity. People walked everywhere. And the roads were…dusty, yes, but more than that, the roads were full of horses and camels and donkeys and goats and chickens and dogs and all kinds of creatures that poop. When you arrived for dinner, your feet needed washing. If there were servants, the task of washing feet was reserved for the lowest of the servants. If there were no servants, as would often be the case when the disciples gathered, it is likely that the chore was shared, rotated among the group. When the disciples gathered in that upper room, no one stooped to the task. One of the gospel writers noted that as they were walking together that afternoon they had been arguing about who was the greatest among them. Perhaps that bad feeling had continued and no one felt like taking the lowly role of washing the others’ feet. So the master took the bowl of water and the towel and performed the lowly service of footwashing. And followed it up with teaching. “The son of Man, THE Human Being, has come not to be served, but to serve…If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” And a little later, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” SERVING HANDS
PRAYING HANDS We see many paintings of Jesus in the Garden with hands folded in prayer. But the typical posture for prayer for a devout Jew would be standing with hands raised. Mark and Matthew, “He threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Luke says that his sweat became as drops of blood. I always thought this was hyperbole until a few years ago when I heard a lecture by Ramsey County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGhee on the physical realities of crucifixion. Regarding the sweat like great drops of blood, Dr. McGhee noted that in times of great stress the capillaries in the forehead, which are very near the skin, sometimes burst and bleed through the forehead. People can, in times of severe stress literally sweat blood. Jesus was entirely human. He was afraid to die.
Nevertheless, not what I will, but your will be done.” PRAYING HANDS
OBEDIENT, TO THE CROSS But ultimately obedience. Leslie Weatherhead argues that God’s intentional will for Jesus was that he be followed, not put to death. But given the circumstances of human obstinacy and sin, that when most refused to follow Jesus and in fact, the leaders began to plot Jesus’ death, then Jesus was faced with several options—to shut up, to run away, to fight, or to keep on keepin’ on, faithfully stating—and embodying—God’s love. In those circumstances it was God’s will that Jesus go to the Cross.
And he did. Spikes through the wrists. Jesus took up his cross in faithfulness. OBEDIENT HANDS
The apostle Paul, who encountered the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, writes that the church is the body of Christ. You and I are the hands of Jesus today. We are called to be hands of healing, of welcome, hands to feed the hungry, to teach the ways of God, to serve, to pray, to take up our own crosses in obedience. May our hands be faithful. Amen.