Homily for Maundy Thursday 2021
Readings: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Leonardo Da Vinci has a lot to answer for.
When we think of The Last Supper it is difficult not to think of that depiction.
I am sure you are right now.
Jesus and his disciples, all wearing brightly coloured and clean robes, artfully arranged along one side of a table, inside a room which looks like a palazzo, and with windows facing onto a Tuscan landscape.
The real scene, in an upper room in 1st century Jerusalem would have been, somewhat, different. The room, less palatial, the robes more workaday and travel worn. They probably sat on both sides of a more rustic table, without a thought to the poor artist. The reality would have been less posed, more incarnational, more real.
Even the title, The Last Supper, are not words that will be found in the bible or the lectionary. Only two people present that night would have had any idea that it was a last supper and not just, well, supper.
Tonight, we celebrate not The Last Supper but Maundy Thursday, Commandment Thursday, Holy Thursday, the Thursday of Mysteries, Sheer Thursday.
A Thursday of many names and many meanings which can be understood on one level at a first reading but, as we dig deeper and seek to live those meanings out, may also sustain a lifetime’s discipleship.
There is the institution of the Eucharist itself. The living Jesus giving us everyday items of bread and wine and making them into the body and blood of Christ in order to sustain the body of Christ which is his church.
Judas’ betrayal, with its themes of freewill and predestination which can cause all sorts of discussion at Lent courses.
Peter’s characteristic but, oh so relatable misunderstanding of Jesus and his subsequent headlong rush of enthusiasm.
We have the commandment to love and serve one another, demonstrated by Jesus getting down from the table and washing the feet of all the disciples, including both Judas and Peter, one of whom was about to betray him to death, the other to deny knowing him and all of whom would flee at his arrest. Jesus knew that, but still he washed their feet.
In your mind’s eye, look again at Leonardo’s Last Supper and perhaps Google it later. Feet may not be the first thing that springs to mind, but look under the table and there they are – some wearing ancient Birkenstocks and some looking bare.
The painter makes those feet look as clean and fresh as the robes but, again, the reality was somewhat different. They were probably dusty, dirty, battered and imperfect, perhaps even smelly. Their feet were as fully human and varied and weird and wonderful as our feet.
I know that some people are embarrassed about having their feet washed at this service, perhaps because they don’t want anyone to see their imperfections, their ingrowing toenails, their bunions, their verrucas, their athlete’s foot or, perhaps worst of all, their chipped nail varnish.
That is the point. We are not called to bring our perfections to Jesus for him to admire. We are called to bring before him those bits of our lives that we would rather not be seen, not just our fungal infections but the deepest imperfections of our lives, and allow him to wash us clean.
We don’t need to get our feet sandal-ready before we bring them to Jesus, rather we get ourselves service-ready by bringing the whole, messy, incarnational reality of our lives to him. As my children would say, we need to get over ourselves, get over our English reserve and let God do what needs to be done to restore his image in us.
Because when we have been washed clean by Jesus, when we know ourselves to be truly and deeply cleansed by the one who took on the sins of the whole world, then we are freed to love and serve others in his name.
Who is the Peter in your life? Who is the Judas in your life? Knowing what you know about those people, imagine washing their feet and seeing not their imperfections but seeing them as Jesus sees them, as he sees us.
Tonight is Maundy Thurday and Jesus wishes to wash our feet. Tomorrow, on Good Friday, his feet will be nailed to a cross for us and for the whole world.
Leonardo Da Vinci has a lot to answer for, by which, I mean that we shouldn’t allow his depiction of beauty make us forget the reality of the original events, because Jesus came to deal with our reality.
But, and this is where I let the artist off the hook, when Jesus is allowed to deal with our reality then he transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, the travel worn into the glowing, the incarnated into the transcended, the imperfect feet which we all have into the beautiful feet on the mountain of those who proclaim the good news, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.