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Sermon for March 28, 2024 – Maundy Thursday

Program Transcript

Love, a force both gentle and mighty, has the extraordinary power to transform hearts and souls. It is a beacon of light that guides us through the darkest of storms, a force that reshapes us and the world around us.

Imagine, if you will, the vast, boundless ocean—a sea that knows no end, filled with countless mysteries and hidden depths. In its waves, we discover the essence of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a ministry that washed over humanity like a cleansing rain, offering new life and hope.

On this sacred day of Maundy Thursday, we gather in worship to commemorate Christ’s humble and loving sacrifice for us, recognizing that his actions were firmly grounded in the profound and transformative power of love, a love that flows from the heart of our Triune God.

In the quietude of that upper room, where the disciples gathered with their Lord, a remarkable event transpired. Jesus, knowing that his time had come, rose from the table and took a basin and a towel. He knelt before his disciples and began to wash their feet.

Can you imagine the humility in his actions? The Son of God, the King of Kings, performing this simple act of service. In this humble act, He revealed a new way, a new paradigm of relationship with the divine—a way rooted in love.

He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The commandment was clear—love, selfless and unconditional love, was to be the hallmark of his followers. This was not just any love, but a love that mirrored his own, a love that transcended boundaries, a love that served and gave without expecting anything in return.

Maundy Thursday challenges us to rethink our relationships with ourselves, God, and others. It invites us to see the face of God in one another and to be vessels of love, compassion, and service in a world often filled with division and discord. In this new way, we are called to join with Jesus in breaking down the barriers that separate us, to extend a hand of kindness to our neighbors, to offer the refreshment of grace and the cleansing of reconciliation, reflecting the Triune nature of the Divine, where grace, forgiveness, and love flow together.

In recognizing the profound love that Christ offers, we also acknowledge the gift of grace and forgiveness that he extends to each of us. As we open our hearts to his love, we find ourselves bathed in the waters of his grace, washed clean by the gift of his forgiveness.

This act of grace, this embrace of forgiveness, empowers us to become instruments of his love in the world. We are not only recipients of this divine love; we are invited to be conduits of it, reflecting the unity of the Holy Trinity.

As we honor the legacy of Jesus Christ on this Maundy Thursday, let us remember that his commandment is not only about words but about actions. It is about living out his love, his grace, and his forgiveness, as we become beacons of hope in a world that so desperately needs it.

May this Maundy Thursday be an invitation to join Jesus in lovingly and humbly serving the world around us. In the simplicity of love and service, we discover a profound connection with the divine—a connection that transcends time and place, and renews our spirits for the journey ahead.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 • Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 • John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Maundy Thursday traditionally commemorates four events: the Last Supper, Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin word found in John 13:34, mandatum, which means “commandment,” and so our theme for Maundy Thursday is the New Commandment, defined as loving one another as Jesus has loved us. Psalm 116 reminds us that God’s ear is tuned to listen lovingly to us whenever we pray. Exodus 12 outlines the details of the first Passover, revealing how God heard and answered Israel’s prayer for deliverance from Egypt. 1 Corinthians 11 distills the essence of the Last Supper, offering an explanation about why Communion is a sacrament remembering Jesus’ death until his return. The sermon text comes from John 13:1-17, 31b-35, and its focus on foot washing helps us understand why we often resist divine Love.

Why We Don’t Like Foot Washing

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (NRSVUE)

How many of you have participated in a foot washing service? Some denominations have a foot washing ceremony once a year, usually on Maundy Thursday. On the other hand, if I asked how often anybody here participated in the Lord’s Supper (or Communion), I’m sure I would receive a very different answer. For many congregations, weekly or monthly Communion services are the typical practice.

Our sermon text today takes us back to the upper room and the scene of the Last Supper. But if we read John 13:1-17, 31b-35 carefully, we’ll notice that the John’s Gospel doesn’t specifically state that Jesus passed around bread and wine and instructed his followers to do the same. However, it does specifically state that Jesus instructed his disciples to follow his example of foot washing. Let’s take a look Read More


Some have called foot washing “the neglected sacrament.” For those churches that either consciously or unconsciously value social respectability, foot washing is problematic. There are logistical concerns. It means getting down on the floor if we can, or if we can’t, it requires a person, usually young, to climb up on a table to make it an accessible height for washing. If we think back to our own experience with foot washing or simply consider the logistics of coordinating such an effort, well, it seems to be such a mess. Just thinking about smelly feet and long or yellowed toenails seems less holy than our neat ritual of Communion. I mean, what can you even say when performing foot washing that isn’t a self-deprecating joke meant to dispel some of the embarrassment? At least those of us who have participated in foot washing knew it was part of the scheduled program. Jesus’ disciples had no idea that’s where he was headed at the Last Supper. They had no chance to trim those toenails or lotion up their feet. They were surprised and taken off guard.

You probably are thinking about Peter’s response in v. 6-8 right now:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:6-8, NRSVUE)

Pretty strong words from Jesus, aren’t they? By instituting this uncomfortable ritual, Jesus was bashing through the human resistance to love and taking down some cultural norms with it. Let’s think about why we don’t like foot washing and what that reveals about our human nature.

Foot washing exposes our vulnerability

First of all, it involves feet: a part of the body that often smells despite our best efforts and that isn’t always pretty but hopefully functional. Next, it involves touching someone else’s feet, probably someone we might not know very well. There’s an intimacy with foot washing, an exposing of our flawed or not-so-pretty bodily parts. It’s hard to be mad at someone while you’re washing their feet. At the very least, you’re reminded how fragile life is and how most of the time, everyone is doing the best they can, even if that seems not to be very good.

Social scientist Brené Brown discovered in her groundbreaking research about vulnerability that what unravels our ability to connect with others is shame or the fear of disconnection. And under that shame was the fear of being vulnerable and being seen as we are, flaws and all. In Brown’s years of shame research, she wanted to nail down the difference between people who had a strong sense of love and belonging and those who didn’t. And what she found was that those who had a sense of love and connection held fast to the belief that they were worthy of love and belonging. This belief that they were worthy was supported by their courage to be imperfect and to be kind to themselves when they made mistakes. They let go of who they thought they were supposed to be and embraced who they were, stinky feet, yellow toenails, and all. What better practice in the context of an ancient people could Jesus have come up with to break through our shame?

Foot washing shows us we’re not in charge, and we don’t need to be.

Notice Peter’s response when Jesus told him that if he didn’t wash his feet, he couldn’t share in the depth of relationship with him:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, NRSVUE)

When we’re threatened by vulnerability, sometimes we try to take charge of the situation. Peter begins to tell Jesus how the washing should be done; Jesus gently tells him it’s not his place to determine the ritual. The purpose of foot washing was not to make the disciples physically clean and spotless. It was to convey love through service. Giving up control helps us trust that we are held in the arms of Divine Love each and every day of our lives. Sometimes we will be the servants, and sometimes we will be the ones served. And the most difficult part of this is that we don’t always get to determine our roles or others’ roles. Life will show us opportunities to serve and to be served, regardless of our preferences.

Foot washing breaks down social constructs.

When Peter questioned Jesus in v. 6, he might have been implying that, given Jesus’ status as teacher, Peter should be washing Jesus’ feet. The social construct of status is broken down when Jesus takes the role of a servant, more specifically, a female servant or slave who typically would have been required to wash the guests’ feet. Jesus’ action seemed absurd to Peter and probably the rest of the disciples, too. You can hear Peter’s thought process: “Don’t you know we have people for that? You don’t have to do such a lowly task.”

It’s easy to forget, too, that Jesus washed Judas’ feet though Jesus knew what Judas had planned to do. In addition to breaking down social constructs involving class and gender, Jesus also included the gift of loving care to those who might not deserve it.

In our world where the poor and oppressed are forced to serve those who have wealth, power, and status, Jesus made his countercultural message explicit in v. 12-16:

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had reclined again, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, slaves are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (John 13:12-16, NRSVUE)

In God’s economy, there is no hierarchy where those below serve those above. For those who follow Jesus’ example and serve with love, not obligation, Jesus says there is a blessing inherent in the effort (v. 17). Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Ministry at Campbell University, Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, writes that “Such a reversal of power—one that serves in humility and performs the work of slaves rather than claiming and coveting male authority—is the antidote to the evil pattern of the world.”

Love expressed through service shows the heart of God. Barclay’s Commentary shares a legend about St. Francis of Assisi which illustrates this:

In his early days he was very wealthy; nothing but the best was good enough for him; he was an aristocrat of the aristocrats. But he was ill at ease and there was no peace in his soul. One day he was riding alone outside the city when he saw a leper, a mass of sores, a horrible sight. Ordinarily the fastidious Francis would have recoiled in horror from this hideous wreck of humanity. But something moved within him; he dismounted from his horse and flung his arms around the leper; and as he embraced him the leper turned into the figure of Jesus. The nearer we are to suffering humanity, the nearer we are to God.

As Jesus concludes our passage, he invokes a “new commandment,” one that has been physically exemplified during the foot washing ritual he performed:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NRSVUE)

Being loved as you are is hard to accept. We want to resist grace and be better, do better. But Jesus takes off his robe, kneels at your feet and mine, washes our rough and callused feet, and then says, “You are so completely loved, dear ones. Now, go love each other in this same way.” This is the challenge of foot washing: can we accept the depth of love and grace we’re offered and then (the second part is critical) gift that same love and grace to others?

Call to Action: Consider holding a small foot washing ceremony with your family or a few friends. If that seems too challenging logistically, try a hand washing ritual, ending with lotion or sweet-smelling oil. You don’t have to make any particular verbal remarks. End your ritual with a brief prayer.

For Reference:

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W2

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March 10—Fourth Sunday of Easter Prep
John 3:14-21, “Lifted Up”

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Program Transcript

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope of the month. It’s John 3:14 – 21. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fourth Sunday of Easter Prep, or as we sometimes call it, Lent, on March 10. Jenny, would you read it for us, please?

Jenny: I’d love to.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Anthony: The apostle John references Numbers 21 where—this is just a crazy story—Moses lifted up the bronze serpent and people experienced healing. What is the connection and significance to that, and the Son of Man being lifted up?

Jenny: I was always taught about that, that it’s a parallel or a signifier of the saving nature of Jesus’ work on the cross because crucifixion involves being lifted up and seen. And the serpent was what was looked to for healing, right? The people just needed to look at the serpent, they didn’t have to do anything, they just needed to look at the serpent.

And in the same way, even though in Roman practices the intention of the victim being publicly lifted up in crucifixion is humiliation and mockery and is basically part of the torture, God the Father’s intention was to accomplish the redemption and healing of the whole human race.

Anthony: That’s just a magnificent statement you made.

Just to be clear, the people of Israel, the Hebrew, Hebraic people didn’t have to do anything. They just had to see their salvation, their healing. And so do we. So much of religiosity is doing this or that to appease the god, but in Christian thought, in Christian theology, God has done it all. And look upon the Son of Man who was lifted up for the salvation of the world.

And speaking of salvation of the world people often think of John 3:16. It’s probably the most famous verse in the Bible, but it seems to me very few continue the thought that is found in verse 17. Why do you, Jenny, think it’s important to hold these verses together?

What context is given there?

Jenny: To me it’s important because otherwise we only hear half of the message that’s contained in it. I’m not theologically trained particularly myself, but I’ve certainly heard scholars who speak about the fact that the numbering of the verses was added in later to make it easier to read, right?

It is there to help us in understanding it. And those sentences are meant to both be, I think, understood and held together.

There’re a few key elements here, I think. The first is something that Baxter Kruger emphasizes often. Verse 16 does not say for God so loved the Christians, which I think is what you were thinking in your comment before too.

It says for God so loved the world. And it’s so easy for us to view salvation as the thing that makes God the Father love us. No, in reality, he loved us from before the world began and he loves everyone. Because love is who God is in his innermost being. It’s not just Jesus who loves us, but God the Father and the Spirit too.

So, the next thing that’s there, which I think is really crucial, is something about how repentance operates. If we read the verses together, we see a picture of the gospel, which shows salvation as something that’s far richer and more beautiful and winsome than merely an opportunity that Jesus presents us with in order to appease God and change God from our judge to our father.

Salvation is not about avoiding condemnation. That’s not the gospel. T. F. and J. B. Torrance both warn really strongly against this. And Calvin did too. That’s where they’re drawing from on that. The gospel preaches evangelical repentance, not legal repentance. They’re two different types of ways of looking at repentance.

Evangelical repentance is based on the good news of what has already been accomplished. We are loved first. We are forgiven first. And because of that, we can then repent and believe. Whereas legal repentance would see salvation as a contract, as a transaction that has the effect of changing God’s mind about us and choosing to not condemn us because of Jesus’ forgiveness.

So legal repentance would have our repentance happening first and then the forgiveness and love coming afterwards. And it’s not that way. Sometimes we can think that, that Jesus is the nice and forgiving one who loves us and dies for us while we’re still sinners. But with God the Father, oh he’s hung up on the sin thing because he’s holy.

But he might change his mind and love us, maybe. But only because of Jesus, if we’re lucky and we pray the prayer right. No, a thousand times no. It’s actually literally the other way around. It’s because God the Father has loved and forgiven the world that anyone can repent and believe in the first place. T.F. Torrance endlessly would say there’s no other God behind the back of Jesus. So that tendency to think that Jesus is the one who loves us already and the Father is the one who will change his mind about us is completely incorrect. It’s a heresy. It’s a wrong way of thinking about the Trinity.

In his book, The Christian Doctrine of God, at pages 4-5, I’ve got a quote. If you don’t mind me reading it. He writes, “God is the kind of God who freely acts and passionately interacts with us in this world, for in his own eternal being he is the ever living, loving and acting God who will not be without us but who in his grace freely determines himself for us as our God and Saviour…. We can never go behind God’s saving and revealing acts in Jesus Christ and in the mission of his Spirit, for there is no other God. This is because God actively loves us, and actually loves us so much that he has given us his only Son to be the Saviour of the world…. He reveals himself to us as the Loving One, and as he whose Love belongs to his innermost Being as God.”

So, God the Father doesn’t have a different heart towards us than Jesus does. Another way he used to put this was to say, God is not one thing towards us in Jesus, and another in himself, in his own inner being, which I guess really is what that quote was about. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one. Their motivation in creating and sustaining and redeeming humanity is one of unconditional covenantal love.

We can’t change God’s mind about us; we’re not that powerful. He already loves us, and he always will. There’s no condemnation from God the Father towards humanity, whether they’re Christians or not. And to me, that’s why it’s so important that it was the Son who was sent into the world. Jesus’ Incarnation and his mediation as the Son of the Father is crucial here because Jesus shares his Sonship with us. The vicarious humanity of Jesus as the new Adam, the Son of Man means that what happened to him happened to the whole human race.

And that doesn’t mean that our own belief is unimportant. And the rest of the passage picks that up. We condemn ourselves if we choose not to believe this, but our belief is just what enables us to see this glorious truth of what is. It doesn’t create anything in and of itself. And I think it was Luther, it’s attributed to Luther anyway, who said something like faith is like an eye, it doesn’t create what it sees; it merely sees what’s there.

And yet sometimes I think if we don’t understand salvation this way, we get tempted to think as though our faith is what has created our salvation and our relationship with God, which means the emphasis is on us and that the pressure is on us to then sustain it. And it doesn’t work that way.

And in any event, we’re given the faithfulness of Christ—although that’s a whole different conversation.

Anthony: Yeah, I grew up thinking that the intensity of my faith was more important than the object of my faith. Boy, that was wrongheaded thinking!

And what I hear you saying, Jenny, is we celebrate a God who makes the first move. And that’s what the Incarnation is. He moved in our direction before we made any attempt to move toward him. And he continues to do that because that’s what love does. It moves closer to that which is held in affection. Hallelujah. Praise God. That God so loved the world, not that he was so upset, so ticked off, so just ready to undo everything.

He so loved the world. And I think it’s worthy of saying that he didn’t just love the United States. He didn’t just love the people of Australia or people of the first world, as some might say. He loved the world. Even those that maybe we would cancel or despise, God loves them. And Jesus Christ is the fullness of their salvation.

Jenny: Yeah. Praise God. Absolutely. I think your last sentence there too, Jesus Christ is the fullness of our salvation is so easy to lose track of. And I don’t know whether it’s because we sit in church sometimes—if we go to church—and we hear this so much that we lose sight of the depth of what’s actually being said there.

My other favorite—and I think it’s a favorite of yours too—my other favorite passage on what all of this actually means for how we preach the gospel, how that truly evangelical preaching is affected by the totality of what God has done in Christ. One of my favorite passages about that is from Torrance’s book, The Mediation of Christ page 94.

And if we’ve got time, I might read a quick section of that because in that book, he spends the early chapters of that book setting out the way in which the gospel is contained in the person of Christ as the mediator of the new covenant and how it centers Jesus. And in Jesus, it’s centering the work of Father, Son, and Spirit together, right?

Because every act of Jesus is doing what he sees the Father doing. And every act of Jesus—as Baxter Kruger quite often would say—is a trinitarian act. So, we’re not just talking about Jesus, but he spends so much of the book explaining that it’s actually not about us at all. And so then towards the end of the book, he then spends the last section looking at what that means for how we preach the gospel and where our own belief fits in.

And so, he asks this rhetorical question at the start, “How then should we preach the gospel in a truly evangelical way”, in light of the fact that all of this has been planned and established and accomplished in Jesus? And he then goes on to say, “Surely in such a way that full and central place is given to the vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response to the saving love of God, which he has freely and unconditionally provided for us.”

So, it depends on Jesus’ response, not our response. And then he says, “We preach and teach the gospel then in such a way as this: …” And he sets out almost a little thing that could be said to someone who doesn’t believe. And what he wrote is, “God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualized his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from you ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell, his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

And I didn’t hear that growing up. I heard a lot about the love of God. I’m not wanting to discount that, but it’s so easy for us in our discipleship to think that God will love us more when we are a better Christian, and if we sin too much, we might scare him off and all of those kinds of things. And the beauty of this is that we’re not that powerful.

Of course, we need to believe that, but it doesn’t hinge on us and more to the point, Jesus is the one who responds as the faithful Son of the Father on our behalf.

Anthony: Yes, friends, if it’s not good news, it’s not the gospel. That sounded like gospel to me.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What has been your personal experience with foot washing? If you have never participated in a foot washing ceremony, would you like to try it? Why or why not?
  • Do you see value in having bodily rituals, such as foot washing or Communion? In other words, are there reasons that human beings need to engage their bodies, not just their minds, in an act of worship?
  • Human beings often don’t like to be vulnerable. How does a physical act like foot washing help us accept the grace and love God has for us, despite our imperfections?
  • By taking on the role of a peasant woman and washing the disciples’ feet, what was Jesus saying about cultural roles that oppress and marginalize people? How does the “new commandment” require us to act in ways that help dismantle systemic injustices in our world today?

One thought on “Sermon for March 28, 2024 – Maundy Thursday”

  1. Foot washing ceremony is a great way to remind us of how God loves us regardless of all our sinfulness and weakness. Our response to what Jesus has done for us is to do unto others what Jesus has done for us.

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