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To Be Touched By Him

John 13:1-17, 32-35

The Rev. Jon Roberts

9 April

2009

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 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 rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5 Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 6 He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but he is clean all over; and you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, 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 so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[c] is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles, Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

The washing of the disciple’s feet;

The mystery of the Last Supper;
The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane;
The betrayal by Judas.
All four of these events lay witness to what is referred to as,
Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. It is an evening of both love and heartache.

Something happened on that evening, in that upper room in Jerusalem; in that garden of Gethsemane. It was a Maundy event. From the Latin, Mandatum, it means “commandment”; a commandment was given. Well, what was it? In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus commands that he is to wash the disciple’s feet. “You shall never wash my feet”, says Peter to Jesus. This was his way of saying, “You are too holy, and I am unworthy; unworthy, even to be touched.”[1] But to be touched by God, is to feel the love He has for his creation; His love for you. Therefore, it’s not that we should be touched by God, but rather we must be touched by God, by letting Jesus wash over us.

We begin the Passion of this Maundy night, with this command, to be touched by God so that we can be loved by Him.[2] Why does Jesus choose to wash the feet? Why not the hands or the head, which also was a custom? It is because the feet touch places that are dirty; places that are wet. We have discussed our dirt, our sin at length throughout Lent. You could say we have touched on it at great lengths, but have we gone to the depths of the human condition, where plots of our own will threaten to steal and kill our spirit? This paints a rather dark picture, but this is a dark evening.

Sin has a way of darkening and so a shadow falls on all creation. Everyone’s soul; everyone’s spirit was at the table that evening. At the Last Supper, Christ knew what was at stake when he passed the cup and broke the bread. He knew that not only were those disciples subject to this shadow, but all of creation as well. That is why he gave his command to be touched by Him. God intends to touch us, and He intends to wash over us. We wear thin under the bondage of sin, and travel through its consequences. Pain and death are its lowly effects, and we have a hard time dealing with it. In fact, we can say that it is impossible to go through it without God’s touch. For the Christian, we know that on the other side of death, is the resurrection. We know that on the other side of pain is the love.

Take also into account a similar movement, one in history, felt by a people who had their share of pain and death.[3] A million faithful believers in God were called out of Egypt. They walked from one side to the other of a great Sea. They walked between parted waters, towering as high as mountains. They clutched their loved ones, fleeing the face of death, as Pharaoh’s chariots shook the ground. By faith they walked. They knew not what land was promised on the other side; and they had to get their feet wet. Our own lives are like that. We know that on one side is sin, suffering and death, and on the other, new life, hope and love. One side we know so well. The other side, we hope to obtain. In darkness, perhaps the only thing we do have is our touch and this is what actually helps our faith. “You shall never wash my feet” is not a statement of faith. It is not an assertion that we cannot touch the holy because we are unworthy. This evening is not about worthiness; it is about forgiveness.

​Tonight, we see the agony that Jesus felt, as he goes into the darkness. He cries and struggles knowing death is all around. We know that Judas betrays him and we know that the chapel will be cast into darkness. The sacrament will be removed and the altar will be stripped. We leave in silence, as if we ourselves move through parting waters. Clutch what you know to be dear: Your husbands, your wives; Your children, your grandchildren; Your friends, your neighbors. Tell them about the story of the people of Israel who sojourned in the promised land but had to first go through the valley of death. Tell them about the story of Jesus, who sojourned in the heavenly land but first had to be born in this world. Tell them how God touched what was lowly; what was dark and wet; how his touch raised things up and restored things to light.

To be touched by God, is to have Him wash over us and to make us clean. To be touched by God is to have Him feed us with the body and blood of his Son and to make us whole.[4] To be touched by God means to let Him see us in our darkest moments; to let Him reach down deep, even when our own thoughts and feelings have betrayed us.

The Maundatum this evening, the commandment, is that you let go of such things…and to be touched by Him.


[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts, paraphrased.
[2] John 13:1-35
[3] Exodus 12:1-14
[4] 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

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