A sermon for Maundy Thursday.
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”.
Tonight we gather to remember the Passover – the time when God freed his people from slavery in Egypt and led them to freedom in the Promised Land. Tonight we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, given to his disciples at the last supper he shared with them before his death. Tonight we gather to begin our journey through the three days of the Passion of our Lord, his death and resurrection. Tonight we gather to do all these things. But above all these things, tonight we gather to take our shoes off and then to put them on again. So let me ask you now to take off your shoes.
Shoes off and shoes on – that is what tonight is all about. Shoes off – shoes on. We find it in the Gospel reading. It is an insight into the very being and nature of God. It is our calling as disciples of Jesus. Shoes off. Shoes on.
So let me explain why all the interest in footwear. It begins in the book of Exodus, where the Israelites are instructed to eat the Passover with “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand”. God’s people are to
prepare to leave Egypt, to follow Moses into freedom. This is very much a shoes on moment. Jesus and his disciples have gathered to eat the Passover. They too are wearing their shoes. And then Jesus asks them to take them off so that he can wash their feet. The disciples must take their shoes off before they can put them on again to celebrate the Passover. The first thing that they have to do is to take their shoes off and receive Jesus’ service. Only then can they get on with the tasks ahead of them.
This is a pattern we see in the Gospel a lot. Jesus receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at his baptism and is then sent into the wilderness to be tempted. The disciples have been sitting and listening, receiving, from Jesus before he sends them out to the villages and towns. Perhaps above all, Jesus is anointed at Bethany before he goes to Jerusalem to be killed. Every ‘shoes on’ moment of action and work is preceded by a ‘shoes off’ moment of receiving. As they gather for the beginning of the ‘action’ of these three nights, the disciples have to begin by taking off their shoes and receiving from Jesus who washes their feet.
What we see in this story is the same as we see in the cross and resurrection - we see the clearest picture of the nature of God. We see the God of love, arms stretched out and dying for us. We see the God who made the world, broken and dead because of his love for the world he created. And we are sent to share that love with our world. As Jesus rises from the table, St John tells us he laid down his robe. As Jesus goes to the cross, St John uses the same word to tell us that Jesus lays down his life. After the footwashing, Jesus tells his disciples to wash one another’s feet. After his has risen from the dead, Jesus tells his disciples to tell others the good news of God’s love. This is how God works – he does the works of love for us. This is a shoes off moment, when all we can do is receive the love and work that God does for us. And then he sends us to join in his work and share what we have received on behalf of the rest of creation. We have to put our shoes on and share. Shoes off and then shoes on – it is simply how God works.
There are, it follows, two mistakes that we can make in the face of the way that God works. First, we can refuse to accept what God gives us. We can refuse to take our shoes off. And then we can refuse to share the gifts we have been given, we can refuse to put our shoes on. Peter, of course, manages to make both of these mistakes in swift succession. First of all he refuses to take his shoes off and receive the service that Jesus is offering to him. And then he asks to be washed all over, he won’t put his shoes back on and share the gift he has received. I love Peter for the way he makes all the mistakes going, and I love him for that because
I make them too. I refuse to accept the gifts that God has for me. I too want to stay in the gifts and not share them with others. But, patiently, with me as with Peter, Jesus calls me to receive – to take my shoes off – and then to share the gifts he has given me – to put my shoes on. Shoes off, shoes on. It is the pattern of the Gospel. It is the nature of the God who loves us. It is the call that each one of us shares. Shoes off, shoes on.
This is pattern that we see in our worship day by day and week by week. We gather together to take off our shoes and receive from God. We gather to receive the bread and wine that are for us the body and blood of Christ. And then we are sent out, with our shoes on, to love and serve the Lord. Receiving and being sent to share – that is the pattern of all our worship. Shoes off, shoes on.
So take this moment to enjoy having taken your shoes off. Receive from God the gifts he has to give you.
Now put your shoes back on.
We have received the gift that is Christ’s own self. Now, our shoes firmly back on our feet, we go to walk with him to the cross. There will be further times to remove our shoes and receive from God. And then we will put our shoes back on, and share his gifts with those around us.
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
First given at St Francis, Mackworth 24.3.16