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Homily for Maundy Thursday, 2023 (Emily Hyberg, Seminarian)


The Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services instructs us to remember that Christ instituted the practice of foot washing as an example of how we are to treat each other and the world. It is an act of “humble service” by which we recall Christ’s teaching that “strength and growth in the life of the [Kin-dom] of God come not by power, authority, or even miracle, but by such lowly service” (Book of Occasional Service 2022, 107).


As I considered our remembrance of Christ’s teaching and ministry in the liturgy of Maundy Thursday and the reading from John’s Gospel that we heard, I kept coming back to the question of how the Apostles themselves might have remembered this final night together. The night when Jesus Christ, their leader, the man they had come to believe was the Messiah promised by God, got down on his knees in front of them… and washed their feet.


Did the Apostles remember laughing together when Peter also offered his hands and his head? Did they remember that Jesus smiled a little bit despite himself, despite the solemnity of the moment? *Note: video begins at this point.


Did they remember Jesus’ hands cupping the water to wash Peter’s feet, the ghost of a smile retreating from his face? Did they remember the sight of those hands—the feel of those hands on their own feet—as they watched Roman soldiers nail those same hands to the cross the next day?


(pause)


Or did they remember the words of Jesus, when he said that not all of them were clean? Did they remember that the laughter in the room was replaced with tense silence and the drip, drip, drip of water from Jesus’ hands?


Did the apostles remember those words when they learned what Judas had done?


When they learned that Judas had betrayed Jesus, betrayed all of them, were their first thoughts of this final meal together?


And what about Judas? What did he remember?


The NRSV translation tells us at the beginning of this reading that “the devil had already put it into the heart of [Judas] to betray [Jesus] .” So it’s easy to imagine that Judas was too hard of heart to think much about it. But, this is not the only way to render the text; another equally valid way of translating the Greek is that “The devil had already decided that Judas…would hand Jesus over.”[1] This actually makes more internal sense in John’s Gospel, where the Devil is often referred to as “the Ruler of the World.”[2]


The powers of this world had already decided that Jesus didn’t fit, that Jesus’ ministry of love, service to friends, and promise of a better world to come could not stand in a world that esteemed power, wealth, and privilege above. all. else. Jesus’ message, God’s power, confronted the power of the world, and human power said what human power always says when confronted.


‘This man has to go.’


We have a name for that pattern: “Structural Sin.”


And Judas, Judas was, in a way, another victim of that same sin. A person moving in the way the world wants him to move. A participant, not out of demonic motives, but out of the circumstance of the world in which he lives and breathes.

(breath) Just like us.


And just like Judas, we might know what it is like to see the world’s violence and know that we play a part in it. To see the errors in our everyday actions only after we see the consequences. So, we can imagine that only when Judas saw the hands of Jesus pounded into the wood of the cross did he remember the tenderness of those hands as they cupped water, and washed feet.


Only then did he realize what he had done, that he had been tricked—that he was serving the powers of the world and not the Kin-dom of God. He had forgotten that the humble service of Christ, the way of God, is different, and harder.


I don’t know about you, but this happens to me all the time. It happens when I buy the super convenient individually wrapped thing at the grocery store and don’t remember until I get home that plastic containers are killing the ocean. It happens to me when I call the police on the partying undergrads next door, without even bothering to ask them to turn the music down first. It happens when I watch tv and see the results of yet another school shooting and I think about how I skipped that gun violence protest the week before.


I, too, have privileged the cares and concerns of the world instead of the Kin-dom that God has called me to help create. I have been distracted and confused, I have run on auto-pilot, thinking of my own needs without considering the harm or the humanity before me. I have, as the Enriching our Worship confession says, done evil and allowed evil to be done on my behalf. I have fallen prey to structural sin, the powers of the world—what we sometimes call the devil.


Really, at its core, Judas’ story is our story, the story of a person doing what he believed was right and learning too late that his actions were part of a larger human pattern of sin and separation.


In a way, we are all Judas.


(long pause)


But that is not the end of the story. We already know that death is not the end of the story for Jesus. The Gospels do not end with the memory of this dinner. The Gospels do not end with Christ’s hands nailed to the cross.


(slower) The story of Jesus is the story of Resurrection.


And sin is also not the end of the story for Judas. The door to repentance, redemption, and salvation that Christ opened is never closed.


In fact, theologian Karl Barth argued that Judas met the most rigorous standards for repentance. He realized the utter depravity of his sin, the cost of his participation in the structural sin of the world; he confessed that sin, and he made amends as best he could.[3]

Redemption and salvation are available to Judas Iscariot, because no one is outside of the saving work of Jesus Christ.[4]


That’s good news for the rest of us Judases.


Because the crucifixion is not the end of the story for Jesus. Sin is not the end of the story for Judas. And structural sin does not have to be the end of the story for us.

There is always hope of redemption.


And in a way, we have an unlikely role model in Judas, Judas provides an example of how to confront our participation in structural sin, even after an unbearable realization. We have to be open to learning how our actions, even the seemingly harmless or the presumed righteous ones, have hurt others, and we have to be ready to confess that sin.


Then we have to follow the example of Jesus, we must become the washers of feet in the world.


We have to do the work of making amends for participating, however unwillingly, in the structural sin of the world. We have to take up Christ’s call to humble service. It will be hard. We will not always get it right, and we will certainly not finish the work ourselves. But it is work that we do not undertake alone. The Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us in service of the Kin-dom of God, guiding our community to be Christ’s hands in the world.


If we look, we can find signs of that work all around us, signs of God’s incredible resurrection to come, in efforts to clean up the world’s oceans or find new ways of keeping our neighborhoods safe without harm.


It is through service like this that we participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kin-dom, it is through this labor that we take our hands, scarred by the work of undoing sin in the world, and place them into God’s waiting hands, scarred in a different way by that same sin

It is through this humble service, through the washing of feet, that we are prepared to receive the salvation that is Jesus’s gift to us, a gift already entitled to us all as adopted children of God.


Amen

[1] Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 284–85. [2] Ibid., 284. [3] Jr. Rogers Eugene F., Elements of Christian Thought: A Basic Course in Christianese (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2021), 39. [4] Ibid., 39–40.

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