Sermon: March 1 2016

NB: This homily was for a Lent series on the wounds of Christ.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

She pours on his feet the choicest pure nard, these feet that and the fragrance fills the house like prayers rising to heaven. She dries his feet with, of all things, her hair.

He rises from supper, girds himself, and prepares a basin. He washes their feet, and dries them. Even Simon’s, the coward. Even Judas’s, the traitor.

They pierce his feet, and his hands too; and his brow, and then eventually his side. A sword pierces his mother’s soul, as it would any mother’s soul, shattering it to godforsaken pieces.

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We make a crucial mistake—or at least a crucial omission—when we suppose that foot-washing is about the humility of the washer and the honour of the washed. It is that, of course: Mary of Bethany humbles herself before her Lord; Jesus enacts humble service for the apostles; the priest humbles himself before the congregation he serves.

But it is also a perilous thing, to have one’s feet washed: it is a preparation for death.

This is most obvious in the case of Jesus himself, of course: when Judas chastises Mary for wasting expensive oil rather than selling it, Jesus rebukes him, telling him to let her alone. Let her keep it for the day of my burial, he says. The feet that were washed became those that were pierced.

In the case of the disciples, the washing of their feet is transformative. It cleanses them, without which—Jesus tells them—they will have no part in him. There are obvious connexions with baptism here, which is itself a kind of drowning: in baptism, we are in the Red Sea and in the sea monster and suffocating on the Cross. In baptism, we give up our lives to God and, therefore, for the world. This is just what it means to wash one another’s feet, to love each other as Jesus commanded that night, after supper, before he was betrayed and abandoned. Before we betrayed and abandoned him.

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Christianity is an ugly religion, with frankly unappealing stories. The only thing going for it is that it is true.

When I was growing up, we were told—and told each other—stories of the Indian prince Gautama Buddha, who when he was born could miraculously walk, and did so: and with each of the seven first step he took, lotus flowers bloomed ex nihilo. It was a lovely, beautiful thing that made for charming watercolours.

Now I tell stories about Roman soldier driving nails into the grubby feet of a political criminal.

Not only that, but I tell you—and I tell myself—that the bloodied feet of Christ are your feet too, and mine. Glib slogans about “walking with Jesus” have no place unless they come with the realisation that the path of glory is the road to Golgotha.

Only then will we arrive at the joy of the empty tomb, where angels sit in white, at the head of Jesus now gloriously gone and also at his feet.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.