I imagine we have all seen this at some time—
a red flag hanging from a pile of lumber
sticking over the tailgate of a pick up truck.
The red flag warns us to stay back,
to keep our distance.
(Or else those two by fous might come crashing
right through our windshield!)
Maundy Thursday in Holy Week is rather like that red flag.
Watch out! it says.
Our gospel reading tonight tells us that Jesus wraps a towel around his waist
and sits and washes the feet of his friends.
It’s like he has a red flag tied to his wrist--
because things are indeed getting dangerous.
Jesus realizes it is a matter of time now.
He senses that his time with his disciples, his friends,
both men and women--
children, too, I imagine—
Jesus senses that he has little time left
to be with those he loves
and those who love him.
Time is short.
This night is the beginning of the end.
Jesus knows it
but the disciples—except perhaps for Judas—have no idea
how badly things are about to turn.
But Jesus does not spend his little remaining time as a fear-monger.
He does not make accusations or complain or hide or run.
Instead, Jesus holds this present moment,
like a precious jewel in his hands.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this night—
until Jesus kneels to wash the feet of his friends.
Jesus did not invent foot washing—
it was a common practice in that dusty part of the world,
in that time period.
Foot washing expressed hospitality, cleansing, purification--
but it was usually done by the lowest ranking servant.
It was, quite literally, dirty work.
Yet here is the Rabbi, the teacher, the master, the leader, the Messiah--
Jesus-- washing their feet.
This action challenges all the power and authority structures.
Jesus is almost always out of order—
always doing and calling others to do the right thing,
not necessarily the orderly thing.
Love is messy.
Jesus knows that.
Tonight he reminds us that if we set our hearts to really follow him,
we better buckle our seat belts
because it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The word “Maundy” means “mandate”.
This is the night we get our mandate—the commandment—
on how we are to live as Christians.
What Jesus tells his disciples is a bit of a shock:
It’s not the preaching or the teaching
Or the doctrine or the theology that really matters.
It’s how you treat one another.
What matters is the kindness you show to both friend and stranger.
It’s the love you show in what you do.
It’s how you walk the talk
that brings light into the darkness.
This is the legacy that Jesus leaves us.
I give you a new commandment.
Love one another.
We must not forget that the disciples were human beings,
just like you and me.
They can’t always have been easy to love!
But this is not a night about an easy path.
John’s gospel was written almost one hundred years after Jesus was born.
But this story—this footwashing, this last supper,
must have made quite an impression.
This night was remembered and the story was told--
and we are still telling the story.
We not only tell it on Maundy Thursday
we tell it—we live it—each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
Do this in remembrance of me.
It is not just about the body and blood of Christ.
It is not just about a bite of bread and a sip of wine.
The bread and wine are there to give us strength for the journey,
for the doing,
for the loving of one another.
It may seem like a strange thing to say in Holy Week
but I will say it any way:
Christians can become too focused on the death of Christ.
But this night—this Maundy Thursday night—
Jesus is still alive and Jesus is telling us to remember his life.
Remember how I lived:
I have set you an example, says Jesus.
We are called to look at the way Jesus lived.
We are called to look at the way Jesus treated other people.
We are called to look at the way Jesus included everyone.
We are called to look at the way Jesus did not have to be the worldly king,
the top banana, the CEO—
he was absolutely comfortable sitting there on the floor washing feet.
Jesus leads by serving others, by loving others,
by talking to people to whom no one else even says hello.
by inviting people who are never invited
to come and join in the feast.
Jesus tells us how: love one another.
Love is more than a warm and fuzzy emotion:
Love is action.
Love is feeding the hungry and hugging the lonely.
Love is building a house for someone who needs a home
and visiting those that feel forgotten.
Love is offering a lap for a child to rest upon
and feel safe and secure and happy.
Love is speaking out against injustice.
Love is speaking with kindness and gentleness
to those we work with and live with and see each and every day.
Love is everything.
This is the night our hearts break
because we realize the immensity of love
and how dark our world is without that love.
Our hearts break because the one who gave us the real life Technicolor view
of what love looks like when it is lived
is about to be led away to his death.
We are left in the darkness on Maundy Thursday.
This dark silence is a powerful reminder of those in the world,
in this country, in this city, in this very church.
that often feel left alone in darkness.
We are called to remember.
We are called to remember that the light shines in the darkness.
We are called to kindle that fire.
Tonight we are given our mandate.
It is not complicated but it is not easy either.
Love one another.
That is the red flag Jesus is waving to get our attention.
Love one another.
For it is love
and how we live that love out in our lives
that truly marks us as children of God.