John 13:1-17, 31-35

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  John 13:1

In Silas House’s novel Southernmost, a Tennessee preacher named Asher Sharp faces a dilemma.  Both his congregation and his wife are more interested in judgment than mercy, and Asher finds himself unable to keep preaching or living that judgment.  Asher loses his job as a pastor, and he loses custody of his son.  Without thinking through the consequences, he takes his nine-year-old son Justin and sets out for Key West.

Asher knows that taking Justin with him is wrong, but he does it anyway.  At one point Asher and Justin stand together in the middle of a bridge overlooking the Atlantic.  Asher places his hands on his son’s shoulders as they look out over the ocean.  Here’s what Asher is thinking in that moment:

Normally in a moment like this Asher would say to Justin that [Justin] was everything in the world to him.  He wanted to tell his son that his own existence meant nothing until [Justin] was born.  He wished Justin could know the way he felt about him…Being a parent was a constant heartache, an endless act of making sure the child was as safe and as happy as a person could possibly be in this life.  Asher wanted to tell his son that he would die for him, or kill for him, and everything in between.  He wished he could tell Justin that he had given his whole self to him without question, with total sacrifice.  But he didn’t need to say any of this.  It was contained in the way he touched his son’s shoulders, the way they stood there together, two people alone in this world made of nothing but endless waters and a strip of concrete crossing them.[i]

This preacher-turned-runaway has driven as far as he can.  He’s reached the end of the road.

So much is held in the touch of a father’s hands on the shoulders of his son – the depths of love, the sacrifice, the willingness to give his life.

Tonight Jesus has almost reached the end of the road. He knows that death is near.  And so we hear this: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Jesus loves them to the end.  He has some words to share, but more than anything he wants them to know his touch.  He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself. He pours water into a basin.  He begins to wash their feet.

So much is held in the touch of a Savior’s hands on the feet of his friends – the depths of love, the sacrifice, the willingness to give his life.

Jesus holds those feet in the way of someone who knows that the deepest love demands a giving up of one’s self, a giving up of all the categories with which we separate ourselves – clean and dirty, servant and master, deserving and undeserving.

Look closely at Peter, well-meaning but confused. At first he tries to resist: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  It seems absurd to him that Jesus would do such a thing. But once Peter’s in, he’s all in: “Not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Neither extreme is necessary.  Peter just needs to let Jesus do what Jesus does.  Peter has only to receive the gift of this blessing, this gentle touch. Sometimes it can be hard to receive that kind of love because we don’t want to need it so much.

But Jesus loved Peter to the end.

And there’s Judas sitting at the table, looking to his right and to his left and wondering if anyone suspects his looming betrayal. The treachery is in his heart, but he tries not to wear it on his face.  So when Jesus says, “And you are clean, though not all of you,” Judas’ heart must have stopped for a moment.  He realized that Jesus knew.

How must Judas have felt when Jesus knelt before him, held his feet, and washed them clean?  How must he have squirmed to know that the response to his betrayal was this act of tenderness.  Sometimes it can be hard to receive that kind of love because we believe we don’t deserve it.

But Jesus loved Judas to the end.

Two Sundays ago we heard the story about Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, friend of Jesus, as she knelt to anoint Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume.  She wiped his feet with her hair.  She cared for Jesus in an extravagant way, regardless of the whispered criticisms all around her.  “Leave her alone,” Jesus says.  He accepts her offering.  In this moment he shows us how to receive love too – by caring more about the person in front of us than the critics around us.

Jesus loved Mary – and was loved by her – to the end.

So much is held in the touch of a Savior’s hands on the feet of his friends – the depths of love, the sacrifice, the willingness to give his life.

Whatever you bring to this night – whatever joys, whatever burdens, whatever questions or doubts, whatever longings or secrets or hopes or fears or failings – Jesus holds them close.  Just as he cradled the feet of his first followers, he invites you to place what you are carrying into his hands.  He wants you to receive the gift of his love simply because it is offered.

Jesus loves you to the end.  Amen.

 

[i]Southernmost, a novel by Silas House, p. 152.

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