a sermon for maundy thursday
Intimacy is not something that we are often readily available to share. Our culture promotes the individual, and in turn, promotes a sense of privacy in that individuality, a sense that what we do on our own time is ours and is not to be shared with anyone else. For, what would our friends and neighbors think of us if they knew that we liked to watch cheesy sci-fi b-movies late at night, or swore by the power of talking to plants in the little gardens we keep on our window sills? Surely, this is knowledge that is best left a secret except for maybe those who are the closest to us. Sharing this little piece of ourselves is so shocking and so intimate, that we can truly only trust those whom we have built a firm foundation of relationship and understanding. This moment of deep intimacy is powerful and draws us closer together with who we share our best-guarded secrets, and yet, it is a shame that we only allow a few, hand-selected individuals into these deepest parts of our lives.
The disciples themselves were privileged to experience very powerful, intimate moments with Jesus Christ. Throughout the scriptures we hear about personal commissionings they receive from Jesus, about the time when Jesus awed them with his great power and authority when he calmed the storm from the bow of their little boat, about the fantastic moment of Jesus’ transfiguration, and soon enough his invitation to enter the garden and pray with him in his last moments on Earth as a free man. Jesus continually enters into these intimate moments with the disciples to teach them not only about their relationships with each other and with God, but about their coming call to serving those who wish to follow in the footsteps of him. And yet, Jesus goes beyond this self-selected group. A group that we would expect to receive these intimate moments because they are the closest friends and family to Jesus.
Throughout the scripture, we also see Jesus entering into intimate, personal encounters with many people that would otherwise be forgotten or ignored. Speaking with the multi-married, multi-divorced samaritan woman at the well, Jesus intimates that he already knows more about this woman than she could ever share with him. Jesus walks out amongst the lepers, healing and touching, an act so intimate that it shocks the observers, leaving them to wonder if this is a crazy man walking their streets, rather than the purported Son of God.
The deep sense of intimacy that is present throughout Jesus’ ministry is culminated in the actions of this night. Gathering together to break bread, the disciples and Jesus are coming together to share in a familiar and yet intimate act. Sharing a meal with other people, like the meal we have shared together tonight, exposes a side of ourselves that we otherwise keep hidden. It is hard to keep our natural tendencies hidden while eating, so we give in and enjoy the company of those around us, trying to maintain a bit more decorum than we may otherwise in front of the television, but nevertheless sharing ourselves with each other. This is a feeling that is well-known to the disciples, who have come to feel empowered as a group of brothers doing the work of God. This intimate event has become familiar, non-threatening, enjoyable. And Jesus decides to push them just a bit further.
Stooping down, with his outer cloak removed and a towel around his waist, Jesus, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, washes the dirty, mud and excrement-caked feet of his brothers. Jesus does this to illustrate one simple fact: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”(John 13:15) It is in this intimate act that Jesus shows to us the life that we are called to live. As followers of Christ, we are asked to enter into the intimate moments of our lives and the lives of those around us. When we share the intimate with each other, we share our true selves with one another. When we are truly open and honest about who we are, why we are, what we are, that is when we can be said to be followers of Christ.
Jesus brings a close to this moment of deep personal connection by reiterating the tenant upon which all of this built: “that you love one another.” It is through love that we can find the confidence to break down the walls protecting our most intimate moments. It is through love that we can in turn invite others to share in this sense of belonging and closeness. It is through love that we can, and must, model the life of Jesus, sharing our intimate moments not just with our friends or family (although this is a very valid place to start) but also with those strangers who we meet on our path. Sharing intimacy with them, we truly discover what it means to live the Christ-like life that we are called into today. Amen.