Pay attention to the tension in your body. Let go of it and any expectations to do anything other than God’s will today. Prepare yourself to hear God’s word.
John 13:1-17, 31-35 (NRSV)
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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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. 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.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 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.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
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? 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, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.’ 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.”
Any “religious outfit” is intended to point to the importance of the office rather than to the rank of the person wearing it. The plainness of liturgical clothing is supposed to overshadow the particularities of the officiant in order to move the attention of the laity from her or him towards the mystery of the divine. Yet, robes have been used as symbols of religious status and authority since the time when the persecuted community finally “overtook the Empire” in the fourth century. As C.S. Lewis put it, “…in every institution, there is something which sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came to existence.”
In today’s passage we see Jesus subverting the expectations and norms of his religious milieu. The exchange of a robe for a towel (an apron in The Message) by a teacher or rabbi turned the narrative of religious leadership on its head. How different would our churches and ministries look to outsiders if we began to wear the apron at least once a week? What might happen if we invite those who usually serve us—wait staff, cooks, landscapers, housekeepers, and janitors—to take the robe and educate us about their religious experiences?
Teacher and Lord, wash us. Cleanse our hearts so that we may wash one another’s feet and have a share with you. Amen.
Go with God.