Wash Day Blues -Maundy Thursday is not about the business of washing but the business of serving

Maundy Thursday – 13 April 2017 – St John’s, Felixstowe

God give you peace my brothers and sisters.

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13.34-35)

I do not know anyone who looks forward to doing the washing, ironing yes (I have some weird friends!) but washing never.  No longer – in our society at least – do housewives (and the occasional man) have to set aside a whole day each week – it was Monday in our home – to go through the rigmarole of soaking in the bath, a quick run around in an ancient Hotpoint, squeeze the linen through a mangle, and then peg everything on the line only to see the wind take your smalls over three garden fences to Number 91 further down the street!  Never, never ever , complain about modern technology.

Latterly, in some parts of the Church, Maundy Thursday has been re-branded as ‘wash day’.  It started out with a bishop or two standing outside their cathedral with a bowl of water, a towel, and a hope that passers-by would let them wash their feet in public.  Some will even get out the Kiwi polish and offer a free shoe-shine, I understand that all kinds of footwear and clients are welcome with the possible exception of Elvis and his ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ which may require specialist treatment.

And it doesn’t stop with feet and shoes! Today, groups of Christians will wash pretty much anything that looks as if it needs a good clean.  The youth of the church will be out washing cars and cleaning windows and generally having a good effect on the lives of those who are not part of the church. So that they may mark what is now proclaimed to be ‘Wash Day’!

This is a good thing to happen, and I applaud the efforts of those who are out in the streets performing ‘Random Acts of Washing’.  However is ‘Wash Day’ the same as ‘Maundy Thursday’?  Surely the point of the day is not about washing feet, polishing shoes, cleaning cars or even distributing the Royal Maundy; but about acting out with every fibre of our being our Lord’s new commandment ‘to love one another as he loved us’?

The ritual of washing feet is a powerful one and those whose feet are to be washed tonight will be touched and transformed by it.  But the point of it, which the disciple Peter missed when it came to his turn, is not that we need to be in the business of washing but that, like Jesus, we need to be in the business of serving.  And this is where it becomes a challenge that moves beyond today’s cleaning of feet and shoes, cars and windows.  Maundy Thursday is not ‘Wash Day’ though it may involve washing of some kind, but instead it is ‘Servant Day’.  It is the day we chose to give up on ourselves in favour of others.  It is the day we put ourselves last instead of first.  It is the day we start loving others, all sorts of others, because we have come to realise what it means to be truly loved.

This is not easy.  After all you would expect people to be thankful if you offered to clean their shoes or wash their car for free.  Today, some good people will have been rejected for their offer of an act of kindness.  There have been times when I have tried to love another ‘as I have been loved’ and find that i am kicked in the face by the foot I washed and had my outstretched helping hand bitten off!   Then I remember that Jesus also washed the feet of Judas and shared his last crust of bread with his betrayer.

there are to be no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, no keeping things in reserve.  The love we receive from our Lord was shown to us in the bloody dance of death on the cross of Calvary.  With such an example how can we pick and choose who we will love?  How dare we deem some people to be worthy of our time and our treasure and other people to be worthless?

Perhaps Peter was correct after all?  We are in need of having more than our feet washed.  For it seems that we are all too easily mired by the dross of the world and presume that love is only true when it is returned.  Jesus calls us to an unrequited profligate love for those around us.  We do not love so that we will be loved, we love ‘because he first loved us’ and that is to be the end of our questioning.

Lord,  by your precious blood and sweat wash us this night.  Wash away our self-importance.  Wash away our self-righteousness.  Wash away our pride in our achievements and our prejudice against those who are unlike us. Wash us Lord, that we may learn to be true servants of the Servant King.

Lord, wash not only our feet, nor only our hands, nor only our heads.  Lord wash our hearts.


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