FEELING LENT…CONFUSION IN THE UPPER ROOM!
John 13:1-17, 34-35
March 15, 2020 3rd Sunday in Lent
To say this has been a confusing week would be the understatement of all understatements! The wave of panic over the coronavirus, or COVID-19 if you prefer to sound more scholarly, has washed over us and left us drenched in various degrees of anxiety. We’ll come back to this shortly…
Over these Sundays of Lent we are feeling Lent! We are exploring the waves of emotion that wash over Jesus during his final days in Jerusalem, while also encountering how these emotions speak to us in our journey as Christian folk.
We have witnessed Jesus experiencing exhilaration on Mt. Olive Road as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have seen him filled with rage as he cleanses the temple of supposedly holy persons committing unholy exploitation of disadvantaged folk.
This morning, though, it is the actions of our Lord that create the unsettling emotion of confusion among his disciples and us.
Jesus confronts us with some self-searching questions.
First, is life about
KEEPING IT REGAL OR KEEPING IT REAL?
It is customary during the Passover Festival week for a rabbi to share in a Passover, or Seder, meal with his disciples. The meal is much more than a social banquet…it is a solemn re-enactment and recollection of God’s grace in liberating the Israelites from bondage in Egypt centuries ago.
The disciples have arranged for an upper room in a Jerusalem dwelling to hold their Passover meal. They and Jesus slowly climb the rickety stairs after a long, hot, tiring day.
As they enter the room, they are met with a perplexing dilemma. They live in extremely unsanitary times. They walk dusty streets filled with layers of nostril-curdling animal and human waste. Covering their feet are crude sandals, consisting of thin leather and a few straps to tie them on with.
They take their sandals off as they walk thru the doorway. There is a pitcher of water, a basin and a towel there at the entrance, but no servant on duty to wash their stinking feet. Each disciple glances at the other, but no one will take the initiative to do the dirty, menial task.
The disciples shrug their shoulders and make their way over to the table. They choose to sit on their superiority rather than succumb to subordination. They are all about keeping it regal.
However, Jesus, who is the actual King of King and Lord of Lords, is all about keeping it real. It is not beneath his dignity to see and respond to an indignity.
To their speechless astonishment, Jesus gets up, goes over to the doorway, picks up the pitcher, pours water into the basin, girds himself with a towel, and invites them to come forward and have their nasty feet washed.
Is life about keeping it regal or keeping it real?
Is life about
KEEPING IT HAUGHTY OR KEEPING IT HUMBLE?
There is an awkward, uncomfortable silence in the room as each disciple steps forward and offers his filthy feet to Jesus for cleansing. This makes no sense! To wash someone’s feet is to assume the role of a slave!
Peter can’t stand it any longer. He blurts out vehemently, “You’ll never wash my feet, Lord!” He is way too proud to picture his Master as a slave, doing something as lowly as this for him.
But Jesus persists, kneeling, washing Peter’s feet as well as the feet of all the others in the room.
Jesus gets up, slowly dries his hands and wipes the sweat from his brow. And then he says to them, =“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
It is a simple yet revolutionary deed our Lord has performed. It is a real-time object lesson that will never be forgotten. Life is not about keeping it haughty. It is about keeping it humble.
And yet, there is one more question to ponder.
Is life about
KEEPING IT FEARFUL OR KEEPING IT LOVING?
Outside that upper room in Jerusalem, the storm clouds of opposition to Jesus are brewing. A cross is looming in the very near future. Jesus senses what is coming, and yet he is not paralyzed with fear.
Inside that upper room in Jerusalem Jesus knows there are two extremely flawed men – Judas, who will betray him. Peter, who will deny him. And yet he does not withhold grace from them. He washes their feet as well.
Jesus is not focused on fear. He is focused on love. Self-sacrificing, self-giving love.
He says to his group of disciples and to us, 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
It’s not a suggestion. It’s a commandment.
And guess what? Scripture informs us that such perfect love casts out fear! 1 John 4:18.
As we embrace the sacrificial love of Christ and then get out the proverbial pitcher, basin and towel to extend that love sacrificially to others, panic begins to dissipate and confusion no longer permeates and compassion starts to radiate.
Perfect love casts out fear!
Yes, in this tough, confusing chapter in all our lives right now, Jesus brings clarity. He calls us to keep it real, keep it humble, keep it loving. Break out of the paralysis of panic. Step up in compassionate service to others who need us.
Wash their feet if need be.
Or at least hold the basin for them…
My mother-in-law Ellen and I have had a great time needling each other over the years. And yet there is no one I admire more than this tough, pragmatic, kind 85-year-old lady who refuses to let cancer defeat her spunk and spirit.
Ellen has never shrank from caring for someone ravaged with illness.
For some strange reason this coronavirus epidemic brought back a memory to me of one terribly long night when I was 22-years-old. Valerie and I were engaged to be married. I had come down with the stomach flu…that’s what we used to call the highly-contagious norovirus back then. Ellen had me come over to their house. She ordered Valerie to go on to bed.
As I Iay in fevered restlessness on the living room couch, Ellen sat up with me that entire night, holding a dishpan for me to puke in periodically. She kept cool washcloths on my forehead. She brought me sips of ginger ale to calm the nausea. She ignored the putrid odor in the room. She hummed hymns to help me go to sleep. She chuckled as I promised to will her my Honda Civic in case I didn’t survive.
Ellen risked her own well-being for me. Sure enough, two days later she came down with the same bug, and, because of her ostomy from ulcerative colitis, that virus was twice as hard on her. She became deathly ill with dehydration. And yet, she had cared enough for her future toe-headed son-in-law to make that sacrifice. We often laugh about it now.
And that, my friends, is the nature of Christ-like love.
That perfect love casts out fear. And it is that perfect, Christ-like love that will enable us to make it through these confusing, difficult, anxious days, perhaps even risking our own well-being to care for others.
This too shall pass.
In the meanwhile, follow Jesus!
Follow Jesus more fervently than you’ve ever followed before!
Love one another, as he has loved you!
Love one another!
And may his peace that passes all understanding be with you, now and always! Amen!