**sermon art: Luke Allsbrook, Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet (2018) oil on canvas
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver on April 18, 2019 – Maundy Thursday, Holy Week
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
John 13:1-17, 31b-34 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.
31 Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.
11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
I’m kinda over mean people. I’m so over mean people that I finally took Facebook up on its constant reminder to update my page and made it my bio line – I’m kinda over mean people. I’m tired that meanness is celebrated as courage to speak truth. That critique is venerated as intelligence. That judgment is lauded as insight. When I was in seminary, I made what I thought was an insightful comment about an author’s work. The moment stays with me when my professor looked me in the eye and quietly invited me to immerse into the author’s thought and intent while reserving judgment on the author’s work, reserving judgment on what wasn’t there to be able to see what was there. Because, of course, no person’s work – no person for that matter – can say all the things, hold all the things, and be all the things, we would wish them to say, hold, and be. To be clear, there are times when critique is necessary and, as a society, we’re in the thick of deciding big moments in history without the benefit of future sight. What I’m talking about, though, is meanness for meanness sake, meanness for power’s sake, meanness for our own sake.
Our young people who will be communing together with their families this evening, some for the first time, just went through Communion Instruction with the pastors. They each received a book that tells the story of Jesus’s life in ministry along with his command to eat bread and wine while remembering him. From just about the first page of the book, there are these crabby people that follow Jesus around. Crabby, mean people who judge Jesus for eating with sinners who embezzle tax money, for healing people who don’t deserve it, for feeding people who are hungry, for, well, the list is endless for what these crabby, mean people are crabby about. Ultimately, they’re crabby that Jesus threatens their power. How can they continue to hold onto power when Jesus keeps undermining their power with all that love stuff? No wonder they were crabby and mean. It’s tough to fight the power of love. Weapons don’t work. Even name-calling has a hard time against the power of love.
In the gospel reading from John, Jesus is all about the power of love. Make no mistake about the power he’s displaying in this foot washing scene. Power on display in his actions and how he moves. He strips down much like a soldier did for battle in the first century. So similar were Jesus’ moves to that of a soldier: he stood up from the table to ready himself; took off his outer robe; and tied a towel around himself – girding himself around the waist with a cloth in same manner of a soldier of his time would do in preparation for battle. However, he makes these power moves at the dinner table. So weird. And, point of note, not a crabby person in sight. Let’s take a look at who is in sight. Judas and Peter are there. Judas showing up with the other disciples, ready for dinner. To all appearances, a good disciple and friend to Jesus. And Peter. Peter, faithfully enthusiastic, he says some kooky things and finally lets Jesus wash his feet. So do all the others. Including Judas the betrayer.
In the unseen verses around today’s reading, Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial just before and after Jesus lays down the new commandment. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” If this section of scripture could be described as a sandwich, Jesus lays down the hummus and veggies of his love commandment in between the flat bread that is Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Now we add betrayers and deniers to the list with the crabby, mean people, who stack up against Jesus. We could try to say that we’re kinda over mean people, we’re kinda over betraying people, we’re kinda over denying people. In the end, could we then say that we’re kinda over ourselves? That’s where I am anyway. Kinda over the ways I can be mean and critical, kinda over the ways that what I do and leave undone betrays other people to their fate, and kinda over my denials that exclude people from life. So over it that today’s good news of Jesus lands right in the center of it.
To get at that center, sometimes we need to go to the edge. In the edge of our view we can see Passover begins tomorrow for our Jewish cousins in the faith. The reading from Exodus is the heart of the Passover story just before the Hebrews’ infamous hike through the Dead Sea on dry ground, from slavery in Egypt into freedom in the desert. In the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the feet of his friends before the festival of the Passover. This week, 21 centuries later, we line up with that timing.
When we see only the crabby, mean people in Jesus’ story, we often decide they are not us. We can make the mistake of scapegoating them to their fate which is dreadfully similar to denying and betraying them to death. Rather than seeing what Jesus did as an expansion of the covenant given to God’s people through Moses, we can see ourselves as taking over the covenant and leaving the original covenant holders in the dust, or even worse, grinding them into the dust. Holy Week has a violent history of Christians against Jews when it is really through the Jews, through Jesus the Jew, by which he expanded the original covenant into the new covenant in his love so that we can now celebrate at Holy Communion. 
During communion instruction with the families and young people who will commune this evening, I invited everyone to stand in a circle facing each other, putting one arm out in from of them. Then I asked us to walk forward until our hands all touched in the middle of the circle (it got super cozy) as one example of Jesus connecting us with each other as we commune. Connecting us with the people around us now, the people who will commune in the future, and the people who communed in the past but also connects us to those earliest ancestors, our Jewish cousins in the faith.
The good news is that Jesus isn’t kinda over anyone – not mean people, not crabby people, not deniers, not betrayers, not you. Jesus gave the new commandment to love one another as he loved – smack in the middle of crabby, mean people who were out to execute him and his friends who denied and betrayed him to that fate. When we commune together, this is the love we receive, the love of Jesus Christ who shows no partiality, the love of Jesus Christ that is for the world God so loves, and for you.
 Daniel Erlander. A Place for You: My Holy Communion Book (Daniel Erlander Publications, 1999).
 Craig Koester, Professor and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament. Course lecture: Fall 2010.
 John 13:1
 Krister Stendahl’s concise and elegant interpretation of Paul is a helpful read in this regard. Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1993)