Maundy Thursday: Hearts, Hands & Feet

Thursday April 1st, 2021

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35

I did my first assembly at the Frieth School today and it was great fun. I talked to the pupils about Maundy Thursday and I asked to reflect on their feet. This was met with a mix of reactions! Had we been meeting in a church tonight I would have included foot washing as part of the service. Again I expect this might produce a mix of reactions!

Maundy Thursday is a very bodily experience. Hearts, hands and feet feature prominently tonight in our readings.

What comes out of our hearts will directly affect our hands and feet and what we do with them, who we help with them and where we go with them. I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the hands and feet in the readings this evening. There are over 560 Biblical references to hands and some 260 mentions of feet. These numbers aren’t significant other than that is a lot of hands and feet!

In Exodus, God gives specific instructions to Moses and Aaron about how the Passover meal is to be prepared. Hands were needed to prepare the lambs and make the arrangements. Sandals were to be on feet, staff in hand and the food eaten quickly. The lamb’s blood needed to be painted over the doorposts.

They were to be ready! Things had to be done.

Maundy Thursday is a day of preparation. There are physical as well as spiritual preparations to be made before heading into Good Friday. In a usual Maundy Thursday service I would have invited the brave and bold to come forward to have their feet washed. Following on from this we would celebrate our last Communion before Easter Sunday. At the end of the service we would strip the altar and then sit in silence to keep watch.

All of these actions – however ceremonial we make them – should help us to turn our hearts, hands and feet to Jesus as he heads to Gethsemane and then the cross.

Our Corinthians reading has Paul handing to us what he received from the Lord. What we have received from the Lord needs to be handed on. Paul is handing on what he knows of the Last Supper; these are the familiar words of our Eucharistic Prayers. The actions of Jesus and his hands in taking the bread, lifting it to give thanks, blessing and then breaking it with his hands. This is the new Passover meal.

Jesus breaking the bread. This is a violent action. Jesus is breaking his own body. Jesus’ body is broken for us on the cross. Not because of anything that He did but only for what we have done. This is the drama that is played out on the altar each time we take communion together. Do this in remembrance of me, he says. Remember my body broken and blood spilled for you. You.

This is the Good News.

As I was preparing for this sermon, a line from John jumped off the page. Verse 3 – Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,’

Amen! Jesus knows what is going on. He has been given all things. Whatever it is, is in his hands! The relief that this has brought me has been amazing! I am careful to say that the ‘bad stuff’ is still happening and it is still difficult. But it’s in His hands. I’m in his hands; You are in his hands.

Because it is in his hands; we can get our feet washed. That is what John is telling us. Jesus knew he was going to God, so he got up from the table (verse 4), tied a towel, poured the water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

Jesus’ foot washing is an act of service and an act of love. The ultimate victory is knowing that he was going to God is completely in Jesus’ hands. He can then do the menial job of foot washing. This foot washing shows us what humble service and true greatness are.

Maybe we have a Peter or two in the congregation tonight. You would have wanted all of yourself to be washed – feet, hands and head. Maybe there are a few anti-Peters who are saying ‘no! I will not be washed!’

Feet, like the heart, pick up stuff along the way. They go places maybe the shouldn’t. Lead to where we don’t want to go. We step in it sometimes too. If we believe, deep down, that our lives are really in His hands then feet washing isn’t that big of a deal. It is a sign of humble acceptance. Humble acceptance of all that has been done for you. Jesus has set us an example as he has washed our feet, we are to wash the feet of others. We can do this in our acts of love and service to each other however unglamorous or menial they might be.

Jesus’ hands healed the blind and raised the dead.

Jesus’ hands broke the bread and poured the wine.

Jesus’ hands have our names written on them.

Jesus’ hands were nailed to the cross for the dirt on ours.

Jesus’ feet walked thousands of miles to heal and teach the least, the lost and the last.

Jesus’ feet brought the Good News.

Jesus’ feet walked up the hill under the weight of the cross.

Jesus’ heart beats for you and for me.

Jesus’ heart breaks over the lost souls of the world.

Jesus’ heart loves beyond what we can ask or imagine.

Will you let the things that have been picked up in your heart and on your feet be washed away tonight?

Loving Lord, you served your disciples in washing their feet: serve us often, serve us daily, in washing our motives, our ambitions, our actions; that we may share with you in your mission to the world and serve others gladly for your sake. (based on a prayer by Michael Ramsey).