Maundy Thursday begins the Three Days (or Triduum), remembering the new commandment that Christ gave us in word and deed as he taught us how to love one another, washing our feet as a servant. We also celebrate the Lord’s Supper, remembering the meal Christ shared with his disciples before his death.

Prelude                 “When In The Hour of Utmost Need”            J.S. Bach

Call to Worship

As Jesus touched the feet of the disciples, he affirmed that nothing in our lives is “untouchable” for God.
Footwashing declares that God longs to touch us, cleanse us, heal us, and revive us.
Through washing one another’s feet, we commit ourselves to following the example of Christ, who humbled himself in service to others.
By kneeling and washing, we express our need for restoration, and our call to be agents of God’s healing and hope in this world. 

Song of Praise No. 693 “Though I May Speak”

1 Though I may speak with bravest fire,
and have the gift to all inspire,
and have not love, my words are vain,
as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

2 Though I may give all I possess,
and striving so my love profess,
but not be given by love within,
the profit soon turns strangely thin.

3 Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control;
our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
by this we worship, and are freed.

Call to Confession

God promises that if we confess our sin, we will be forgiven, and given the grace to forgive. So now, in humility and faith, let us confess our sin to God, first together and then in silence.

Prayer of Confession

God of steadfast love, when we feel betrayed, we cling to our pain. Clinging to our pain, we refuse to forgive. Refusing to forgive, we live in fear. Living in fear, we fail to serve others. Forgive us, Lord. Give us courage to forgive, so we may be free. Give us hearts that long to serve you and your world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Friends, hear this good news! Through Christ, we are forgiven. Through Christ, we are given the grace to forgive. Through Christ, we are made whole. Through Christ, we may be at peace.
Thanks be to God!  

Prayer for Illumination

Holy God, through the power of your Holy Spirit, give us eyes to see and ears to hear what it is you have to say to us through your Word. Amen.  

Scripture John 13:1-15

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,[a] 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,[b] but is entirely clean. And you[c] 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.

Reflection    “Towels”

It’s a story that makes us cringe. It’s a scene many churches replay each Maundy Thursday, and not everyone loves it. It’s a gospel passage that is just plain uncomfortable.

We have Jesus, whom this gospel has shown us to be the living presence of God in our midst, taking on the role of a slave and washing the feet of the people who are looking to him as their leader, their Lord.

We have push-back—an incredibly pained and uncomfortable conversation between Jesus and Peter, who insists on reversing those roles to the more comfortable and expected order.

And finally, we have that conversation-stopping statement of Jesus. “Not all of you are clean.” Which means, to Judas, the one who has already sold him out to the authorities, I know who you are, and I know what you have done.

Today we have reached a turning point in the gospel of John. The public ministry of Jesus has come to an end. With the raising of his friend Lazarus from the grave, Jesus came to the conclusion of what scholars’ call “the Book of Signs.” Now begins “the Book of Glory.”

In the other gospels the story of the betrayal and crucifixion are saved for their very last chapters. But John devotes fully one half of the gospel to it. The other gospel writers seem to be struggling to fit the terrible scandal of crucifixion—a death reserved for rebels and slaves—into their overall story.

John is different. John sees Jesus differently, and he sees the crucifixion differently.

One feature John shares with the other gospels, though, is this: In the last hours of his life, Jesus gathers together with those closest to him. His disciples. His followers. Those who have shadowed him—men and women, though the gospels highlight the men—those who have been with Jesus through it all.

And so the story begins:

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. (John 13:1)

Sit down angel friends.
Sit down Cana couple.
Sit down Martha and Mary.
Sit down Patrick and Bride.
Sit down guest and stranger.
Sit down poor and homeless.

Jesus turns his attention to “his own” in these last hours. And with his withdrawal from the public eye, we find there is a different tone in what he says and does. There is a meal, but it is not the Passover meal in John’s gospel. It is not Passover yet, because, for John, Jesus will embody Passover. But that’s later. Here the focus is not on what happens at the meal, but what happens afterward.

Jesus comes to wash our feet.
Jesus comes to dry them well.
Jesus comes to pour our wine.
Jesus comes to break our bread.
Jesus comes to heal our wounds.
Jesus comes to lead our song.[iii]

It is extraordinary. Jesus rises from the table, removes his outer robe, and, half-naked with a towel wrapped around his waist, proceeds to wash the feet of his disciples.

What does it mean, for Jesus to have washed the feet of his disciples? In the ancient world it was common courtesy to have your slaves wash the feet of your guests. My dad, when he was living in Ventnor, had a standing, twice-yearly appointment with a podiatrist for the purpose of caring for his feet as he got older. I know lots of women who make it a regular treat to get a really great (and lasting) pedicure. I know people who would tell you that they would rather die than have someone look at and touch their feet. But it’s also true that there is a remove when you are paying someone, a professional, to do these things, to handle this part of the body that we don’t expose for much of the year, and with which we’re often uncomfortable. Our feet carry our weight, and they show the wear and tear of age—callouses and bunions and thick toenails.

To wash someone’s feet, or to allow your feet to be washed, is an intimate act. Now imagine presenting your feet to be washed by the person in the world you most look up to—whoever that might be. Your favorite author, or sports figure, or actress. The Dalai Lama, your yoga teacher, the Pope. The president you most admire, or senator, or congressperson. Imagine the very last person in the world you would ever want to look at or touch your feet.

Then imagine being in Peter’s shoes. So, to speak.

Jesus has given us all these signs, to tell us of who he is, and who God is. I think that John slips some other signs in, too, but they don’t get as much airplay. Here is one of them: Our God is a God who cares about our souls. Of course. But ours is also, very much, a God who cares about, and cares for, bodies.

God to enfold me
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking
God in my sleeping
God in my waking[iv]

I’ve been weaving little prayers throughout this sermon, all drawn from Celtic Christianity. When Saint Patrick “converted” the Celts sometime around the fifth century, they held on tenaciously to their conviction that the body was good and important. That notion is something which set them apart from much of Christianity, which, somehow, got caught up in this idea that the body is only a vehicle for sin, for messing up. For Celts, the body was a precious gift from God, and so Celtic Christianity came to be permeated with prayers and songs and actions that reinforced that conviction.

And here, in the midst of the gospel which can be pretty esoteric and otherworldly, we have Jesus engaged in an act of care for the bodies of his people, “his own.” And this, some would argue, is the true birth of the “Beloved Community,” both in Jesus’ act of service, and in his instruction to his followers that they should do likewise.

“I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

We are called to engage in acts of service to one another, in imitation of Jesus and in his name. I’d like to suggest that, for many of us, this service also encompasses the hard, intimate work of being in human relationships. Here is how one pastor describes it:

I think of the word conspire. Not in the secret, plotting way we might think of the word, but with its roots. Con + spire (spih-RAY). To breathe with. Intimacy means a kind of breath sharing, a closeness that breeds a movement together, a waiting and dependency.

This is intense. This is what it felt like around that table. There was a conspiracy afoot, but it was not about crucifixion. It was a joint breathing- a God-breathing human being with other God-breathed beings, gathered together, and brought into a new kind of intimate community. This is what it means to be the community of Christ- to be a group who breathes together in worship, in work, in play, in service.[v]

Intimacy can be powerful and beautiful and life-giving. It can also be excruciating and embarrassing and vulnerable. But I think this is what’s at the center of the persistent metaphor for what it is to be the church: we are the body of Christ. You can’t be much more intimate than that. But that intimacy is what the great Patrick acknowledged, submitted, and yielded to in the prayer we call “the Lorica,” or “breastplate”:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

This is our calling: a life of service that is not at a remove, at arm’s length, but one of God-breathed intimacy. A life in which we let our bodies be vehicles of blessings—from the water poured over us in baptism to the ash smudged on our heads at Lent’s beginning; from the bread we break at home and at church and in a soup kitchen to the dear bodies of friends, children, beloveds we cling to; from the welcome of a hand outstretched to the healing hug of forgiveness. Having been loved by God, who breathed life into us from the beginning, let us love one another until the end. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Song No. 209 “My Song of Love Unknown”

1 My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

2 He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
the world that was his own
would not its Savior know.
But O my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend!

3 Sometimes we strew his way,
and his sweet praises sing,
resounding all the day
hosannas to our King.
Then “Crucify!”
is all our breath,
and for his death
we thirst and cry.

4 Unheeding, we will have
our dear Lord made away,
a murderer to save,
the prince of life to slay.
Yet steadfast he
to suffering goes,
that he his foes
from thence might free.

5 Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine:
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

Foot-Washing Ceremony

Tonight, we remember when Jesus, on that night before Passover, took a towel and poured water into a basin, and washed his disciples’ feet, saying to them: “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Loving God, thank you for laying down yourself, and taking the form of a servant.
Serving God, thank you for showing us mercy through your vulnerable love.
Spirit of God, come and wash over us. Make us one in you.
God of hope, bind us together in this act of service.
Come now, Spirit of God, and make us one body in Christ.
Bind us together through this act of service, that we may leave this place better able to be your agents of healing and hope. Amen.  


Communion Invitation

The same people who ate the loaves and fishes followed Jesus the next day, all the way to the other side of the lake. Did they follow him hoping for more signs that he was God? No. Jesus said to them, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Friends, we gather at this table not to fill our stomachs but to be fed by spiritual food. Jesus told the people, “The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Believing in him, we come to this table to share a holy meal.

Communion Prayer  

Let us pray. Lord, we come to you looking to be fed. We remember the stories of miraculous feeding, of manna in the wilderness, and the abundance of loaves and fishes, and the miracle of the wine at the wedding in Cana. We ask your blessing on these ordinary elements, the bread and the juice. We believe you feed us in ways that go far beyond our literal understanding. Through the awesome wonders of creation to the joy of human love and the power found in a group of people working on your behalf, you have blessed us. You became present to us in Jesus and blessed us further with your grace and mercy. You remain present to us in the working of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks for all the ways you show your love for us as pray together using the words Jesus taught us:

Our Father, etc. Amen.

Words of Institution

Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

This is the bread. This is the cup. These are the things of God for the people of God. Come, for all things are ready.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Holy and gracious God, for the meal we have shared, for the nourishment of the spirit and for the life of this community, we give you thanks. Help us to see miraculous signs wherever we see you. Help us to work always for the food that endures, in Christ’s name. Amen. 

Song No. 215 “What Wondrous Love Is This”

1 What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, 
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

2 When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down
beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul!

3 To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I am,
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme, I will sing!

4 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Sending Prayer

God of service and love, send us from this place, nourished by your Word and drenched in your Spirit.  Give us strength to be your servants, extending forgiveness to our enemies, companionship to the lonely, and justice to the oppressed, that we may be the hands and feet of the body of Christ, in the world you created, sustain, and love. Amen!