Are We Ready to Hit the Road?
“Are We Ready to Hit the Road?”
Suggested by John 13:1-17
How seriously do we take the Bible? How do we decide which passages to hold close to our hearts and which to push as far away as possible? These questions surfaced as I was writing the sermon for the first Sunday of this month. That sermon will be about hope and humbleness and hospitality. God seems to think we should live according to those three “h’s.” The passage I’ll be talking about is the one in which Jesus allowed Mary to wash his feet with perfume and to dry them with her hair. By itself, there is plenty to consider in this passage.
It’s what follows, in chapter 13 that should, it seems to me, be a regular part of our own worship. As John’s Gospel told the story, Jesus got up from dinner – what we know now the Last Supper, which is the basis for the service of Holy Communion. He wrapped a towel around his waist, got a basin of water, and made it clear he was about to wash the feet of his disciples.
In some Christian traditions, Communion is never separated from this preparatory cleansing. The foot-washing has both a physical and a spiritual element, and that spiritual experience is seen as being as essential to taking part in Communion as is the bread and the cup.
In trying to relate the passage to our lives today, I realized I was coming up with questions that could easily turn into a whole separate sermon – or maybe a newsletter article. Why do we leave out that part of the ritual? And, deeper than THAT question, why do we choose to treat some biblical passages as worthy of memorization while we ignore others? In this particular case, Jesus seemed to believe that the foot-washing was a requirement, a sort of pre-requisite for what was to follow. What comes next, Jesus could have summed up like this: “No foot-washing? Don’t bother with the rest.” When Peter protested against what Jesus had in mind – washing his feet – Jesus told him that he couldn’t be his disciple if he refused.
Imagine if we told people they’d have to allow me to wash their feet or they wouldn’t be allowed to take part in the Communion service. It would, among other things, be either a very long service or a very short one. But, again, the bigger question is this: why do we ignore this practice when Jesus taught its importance – even centrality – to being his follower? It’s like saying that some of the Ten Commandments are important, but others can be safely ignored. “Thou shalt not steal” – yeah, that’s a keeper. How about, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord
thy God in vain?”. God seemed to think they were both important enough to carve into stone. Listening to people talk, I have to wonder how seriously we take God. The same applies to what Jesus taught about being his followers.
Maybe, as with many other things, we can’t learn the value of what Jesus taught unless we first experience it for ourselves. It’s like driving a car. Reading about how it is done is important. It’s hard to pass the written test for a driver’s license without reading the driver ed. manual. But it’s going out on the road while behind the wheel that really teaches us how to drive. We have to DO it, not just read about it, if we really want to be good drivers.
The same concept applies to our faith. We have to DO the things Jesus taught, not just read about them, if we want to be good Christians. Does this make sense to you?
We’ll have a chance to put into practice the instructions Jesus gave to Peter and the rest when we come to our Maundy Thursday service. Foot-washing will be an integral part of that service. Then Communion. Then we’ll have all night to think and pray about what we’ve experienced – or chosen not to experience – as we engage in the overnight vigil part of the service. The service will conclude with noon-time worship at Agawam Congregational, where I will be leading worship and our members will be providing lunch for the fellowship after.
We learn to drive by pulling into traffic. It’s not just what we know in our heads that keeps us alive out there. It’s what becomes an automatic response, a faster-than-we-can-say-it way of knowing what to do, and then doing it that makes it possible for us to get safely home.
Jesus wanted his disciples – and all who came after them – to get safely home, too. Before he sent them out onto the road, he wanted them to do the equivalent of a practice drive around the parking lot. “Experience this first, Peter,” Jesus might have said; “it’s that important. THEN you can be in communion with me. But if you can’t do this much, you’ll never be ready to hit the road.”
And us? Are we ready to hit the road as followers of Jesus?
See you in church?