That Time Jesus was a Hot Mess

Inspired by John 13:33-35

Well, I don’t know about you but I thought Holy Week was over! Since Easter Sunday we have had Gospel readings from primarily the events of post-resurrection Jesus. Except for last Sunday but I ended up preaching about the 23rd Psalm anyway. But since Easter Sunday we have had these beautiful stories of resurrection appearances from Jesus last days on earth, and then bam, like a bucket of cold water on our head, we are thrust right back into the events of Holy Week with today’s Gospel reading—and I can’t help but feeling like it’s too soon. As wondrous and mystical as the services of Holy Week are, they are also difficult, painful, and at times, leaving us vulnerable.

But now we are in Easter! And everything supposed to be tulips and lilies right? With songs of celebration, victory, hope, new life! We were just getting started and now we find ourselves stubbing our toe on Holy Week—and like a stubbed toe I was perturbed to find ourselves here. Because I thought this was behind us, at least for this year, but our lectionary reminds us, yet again, that both the cross and empty tomb, both death and resurrection are always before us, not just behind us.

So, our brief Gospel reading comes from the Last Supper, Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before he died—what we celebrate each year on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. And though these few verses that we read today can ably stand on their own two feet, it is vital that we remember that entire night as we ponder them. Now if you take John’s word for it, it was a long night! Or maybe it just feels that way because there was a lot of talking! Which is the way that the rest of John’s gospel reads. Everywhere that Jesus went he just couldn’t help constantly launching into a speech. You’d have thought he was on the campaign trail!

This night was no different, as he sat with his closest followers, enjoying what he knew was his last meal with them before his death, Jesus shares with them his final thoughts, his most precious lessons from the last three years, as well as a few new ones. Imagine if you can, and maybe some of you have experienced this from the other side, that you knew your death was imminent, and you still had things to say to those closest to you. What would those words be? What shape would those conversations take? This is where Jesus’ heart and mind were on that night.

One of our children and I
demonstrating a footwashing
by washing each other's feet
during worship.
But the night did not begin with him speaking. He didn’t start out with one of his long speeches. The night started with him doing. The night started with a foot washing—and Peter speaking up like he always did, hesitated in utter confusion, wondered what in the world Jesus was doing. And Jesus first words of the night were, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” Now I always took “later” to mean after Jesus was dead, raised and gone. But what if Jesus meant sooner than that? What if Jesus meant later that night? What if Jesus meant, by the end of the night, you’ll understand? Hold that thought for a moment.

So Jesus begins the night with a foot washing, which completely throws the disciples off guard, but it’s important that you have a mental image of this event in order for us to grasp the words of today’s short Gospel reading. Now, without boring you with a history lesson, the whole point of washing feet when you entered a home in the biblical world was because they lived in a dusty dirty world with no paved sidewalks or roads to walk on just dust and dirt. And, they wore sandals, not shoes. A modern day version of this might be spending a day at the beach and then trying to get as much sand off of your body, and you know that stuff gets everywhere, before you get in the car and certainly before you track it all over the house. Same concept, only this was an everyday ritual for them.

Ok, so with that in mind, Jesus is washing all of his disciple’s feet. Not like the way we do it here, where we all take turns washing each other’s feet, Jesus is washing them all. And there’s no reason to believe that it was just the twelve, in spite of what the paintings of this night may look like. I’m comfortable believing that women and maybe even children were there too. Jesus is washing all of them, and remember, they are dusty and dirty feet. Maybe even more than normal because of all the ministry and preaching that Jesus was doing. So, Jesus is finally finished washing everyone’s feet and this is the image I want seared into your mind.

Jesus is tired, he’s sweaty; Jesus is dirty, his clothes are now all wet so now he’s a bit muddy; he’s smelly, because, well, feet smell. He was looking like a hot mess. And that’s the state Jesus was in when he shared with his closest followers, his final thoughts, his final lessons, his final prayers, his last meal, his hopes and dreams for them—when Jesus sat with them, tired, dirty, smelly, and said, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you.” This is what love looks like. Love is tiring work. Love is dirty work. Love is smelly work. This is Christ’s new commandment for us. Our love for each other and for our world is supposed to leave us tired, dirty, and smelly. That is a sign that we are doing it right.

Friends, we follow a God who loves us so uniquely, so profoundly, that we cannot only begin to fathom it. We follow a Christ that is not afraid to love us until Christ is exhausted, until Christ is dirty, until Christ is smelly. May we have the same spirit of St. Peter, and fight any hesitation we may have to allow Christ to love us in this way, so that we too may be refreshed and empowered by his love, to love each other and our world in the same way. May every week be a holy week for us. Amen.

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