In the Upper Room
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. At Dayton UM Church, we begin a worship series I'm calling "The Places of the Passion of the Christ." The Passion of Jesus was the deep love He poured out in His last few hours. Over the Sundays of Lent, we'll visit the upper room, Gethsemane, the High Priest's House, Pilate's Hall, the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha and the garden tomb.
In the upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, with a twist. The Passover is the solemn, holy meal remembering the deliverance of Israel from slavery by God's mighty hand through Moses. However, at this Passover Seder, Jesus took bread and wine and re-cast them as signs of His body, broken for us and His blood, shed for us.
But Jesus did something else in the upper room. "He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him." (John 13:4-5 NIV)
Roads in Jesus' day were often stone, or even dirt, paths. People wore sandals, or went barefoot. Their feet got dirty. As a sign of hospitality, it was common for a homeowner to have one of his servants wash the feet of his guests when they entered his home. A similar custom in Japanese culture is the taking off of one's shoes upon entering a house, and being provided with slippers to wear while in the home.
Washing feet, as you can imagine, was dirty work. It was humble work. It was servant's work.
When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter wanted no part of his Master acting as his servant. “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8 NIV)
Jesus does wash Peter's feet. And the other disciples' feet as well. Then He tells them this: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14-15 NIV)
To live a life that pleases Jesus is to serve humbly wherever He plants us. Our Lord took the role of a servant, and He calls us to live out that same role. Serving others serves Jesus.
I want to circle back to one other thing. "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." I believe there is something deeper here than Jesus simply insisting on washing Peter's feet to make the example of living as a servant. We need to be washed by Jesus. We need to be cleansed by Jesus. We soil our lives with sin, and only Jesus can cleanse us of it.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
On this first Sunday of Lent, it is good to take stock of my life and ask myself a daunting question: Is my life reflective of the servant heart of Jesus, or am I still all about me? (Pause a moment and think about this question. I'll wait.)
Remembering that Jesus told them (and tells us), "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet," it seems like this would be a good day to look for someone who is lonely, tired, broken or hurting, and out of the love of Jesus, serve them in some way. Because serving others serves Jesus. And that is the deep lesson of the Upper Room foot washing.