The Christian women of Old Basing decided some months ago that whilst the women of The Bahama’s had wanted an interactive reflection on John 13:1-17 (something of which I was unaware at the time), they would prefer to have the more usual speaker for this years World Day of Prayer, and asked me to speak. So today, I shared with them a few thoughts,… and gleaned some of theirs.
“Do you know what I have done for you?…
Do as I have done for you!”
This [jug and bowl] set, complete with small, matching towel, was a gift from my sending parish last Pentecost, when as a family we left in preparation for my ordination and coming here. It was very specifically given as a sign of the service I would be offering to the communities I will work in as an ordained minister, not just in my diaconate year, but always. The reference to the passage that is our Biblical focus today, is unmissable.
Jesus lays aside his garments and takes up a [towel] or apron, kneeling at people’s feet, as a slave would. He, the once and for all Messiah, [pours water] onto soiled, dirty, feet, making them clean. The symbolism is spelled out clearly in the scripture – as Jesus has served his disciples, has become a slave to their needs, so they should go and do likewise!
The connection to the slavery and service offered by the ancestors of many in the Bahama’s is also obvious. Equally, many of us have given much of our lives to serving others – service perhaps of our country, almost certainly of our church; service to various charities, to neighbours and friends in crisis; we will have served our family with an outpouring of love wherever possible, whether it’s been reciprocated or not. Those acts of service hopefully continue, and it is through them that we rightly offer spaces for God’s blessing of the lives of others.
So, as we re-visit this probably familiar passage, what more does Jesus want of us?
Jesus was preparing to lay aside not just a few moments of his life in the service of others, nor the length of natural life in enforced slavery as did so many during the height of the slave trade, and sadly still today in some places of the world. We know Jesus gave up life itself, willingly, freely, as a sacrifice for the whole of God’s creation. It may have been the ultimate freely given gift of grace, but it was given with the anguish of God’s broken heart as well as a broken body. There was pain in these Jesus’s actions among friends in the Upper Room knowing that one would betray him, the anguish of his submission to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which he also knew his Fathers’ anguish that it had to be this way, and then heaped on this, the physical suffering of the cross. In it all Jesus was conscious of his divine origin and destination, and that this was the most critical task laid on his place in this world by God.
When he bled on the cross – the action we remember in the Eucharist alongside his other command to ‘do likewise’ by sharing in bread and wine – When he bled on the cross, it was a cleansing from sin and our tendency to ‘fall short of the mark’ as Fr Alec put it in this months “Basinga”. It was the ultimate act of love of the Son of God for every other child of God, then and now.
Christ’s was a sacrifice for the future of God’s Kingdom, a drawing not just of his own generation into relationship with God, but the ‘supreme work’, a once and for all sacrifice so that all people in all places of the world, from the Bahama’s to Old Basing, might recognise God’s love for them, acknowledge their shared humanity in Christ’s image, and proclaim it to each forthcoming generation.
So let us change the footwashing image slightly. Let us take a more ordinary jug and bowl, one that we might use daily to prepare food rather than place on the mantle-piece, and think for a moment how it might be if we poured [our blood*] out over one another.
Our blood is our life, we can’t carry on without it, we lose too much of it and we pass out. Healthy blood also contains cleansing properties, fighting off the bacteria of those bugs and diseases that can cause us harm. The DNA markers that we find in our blood, can be found in future generations of our family, however distant, to mark them out as having a shared heritage. Our blood can on occasion be donated to save the lives of others.
Slaves who died, did not do so willingly as Jesus did. They died because of people’s inhumanity to their fellow humans, a lack of recognition as to a shared place in God’s creation.
Sacrifice is much more about freely giving up something important to us, something we hold dear, more-so than straightforward acts of service where we might enjoy the effort and be happy to give up the time involved. Sacrifices include those things where we may be less likely to see the benefits of in the lives of others, or within our own lifetime – they are an act of faith, designed to give life, focused on the future.
We may feel that we have already made sacrifices in our lives. Perhaps we have given up a career for our family, or some of our family life to take forward a career or calling. But our focus this morning, and this passage in particular, asks us how radical and sacrificial can our love for those around us be today, and in every future day?
What can we sacrifice, from which we may not gain any benefit but which would enable others to more fully experience the love and forgiveness of Jesus? How do we pass on our Christian heritage, including that of this Women’s World Day of Prayer, pouring out our faith-blood like we might donate our actual blood and DNA, to future generations?
I’m going to invite you now, in a few moments of silence, to consider those questions. But I don’t want you take away your answers in silence. It would be lovely if we all knew what they were. So, whilst we are having our refreshments after the service, if I may, I would like to interrupt us briefly**, so that we can talk about what sort of sacrifices we feel we are able to make. Whether or not they are directly related to Women’s World Day of Prayer, we can think about how we might make them happen, because Jesus wants us to follow in his footsteps, to “DO as he has done to us”!
* After a Twitter conversation, the ‘blood’ was cheap tomato ketchup, watered down a bit, with added red food colouring. I was told it was reasonably authentic!
** I carried out my threat to interrupt them. The feedback centred around the need for health (excercise specifically I think) to be more closely associated with social welfare, and the levels of isolation experienced in the community, I think particularly by elderly (who were well represented in the congregation). I challenged them to have done something as a community of Christian’s about one of these issues by the time they gather for next years WWDP.