A personal meditation on John 13:1-17,31

[No pdf version]

Chris Cheah,
Good Friday, 25 March 2005

Lord Jesus, you knew before this Passover Dinner that your hour had come. Your hour, the hour when darkness would seem to prevail, but when the great victory was going to be won.

From the world's perspective you were going to die the most shameful and horrible death known in your time. But that is not how this event was known in the Spirit. For you alone among humanity truly knew where you had come from, and where you were going. You were finally going to return to the father, and knew the depths from whence you had come.

This knowledge must have been a foundation for your amazing equanimity during what followed. It must have been what enabled you to be, and remain, the one of point of tranquility, the one eye of sanity, in the storm of a group of people gone mad over the next few hours. People like the crowd; and the pharisees; and the frightened disciples; and the cruel soldiers; and the weak or manipulative Pontius Pilate. People like me. You were the one person who could see what was really going on, but was never caught up in the group madness. The one whose true seeing came from the eye of love and did not fear.

Thank you for your gift to us in rising from our common table to do something quite uncommon.

You took off your outer robe. Our wise Lord and teacher doesn't look quite the same almost naked, dressed only in the loin cloth of a slave, does he? Yet in this near nakedness, surely I am finally now seeing the real you? Maybe. Yet in taking the outer cloak off, and then putting it on again later when you came back to the table, I sort of have the feeling that maybe you are maybe also telling me that nakedness another kind of clothing – another way of being in the world that is of no lesser (or greater) merit than that of being a wise teacher. The garb of a slave is just another way of dressing—another outward form that the Truth can put on, or take off, as needed—just as you did with your robe of Teacher. You yourself go beyond forms.

And you tied the towel to yourself—making it part of you—as you commenced your sacrament of foot cleaning. You loved us to the uttermost. You came to make us clean.

What an intimate thing to do. To hold another person's feet. To feel and get to know this part of another person's body. To hold them, and gently wash them. To purify them and refresh this part of another person's being which I so rarely notice or show any interest in. My feet—that part of me that touches the earth. That part of me that I take so much for granted as it works in pounding the dirt and in so doing becomes dirty. That part of me that was, O Lord, regarded in your time as low and dirty and utilitarian.

And thank God, again, for you my brother Peter, who was never afraid of making a fool of himself! Thank you again, Peter, for your three outbursts. (Why do things that happen to you seem to go in threes?).

Thank you for being puzzled by Our Lord's extravagant gesture, and for being puzzled as to why you merited it. Jesus told you that you would understand afterwards. I think I understand at one level, but I am still feeling my way into the mystery of it. I still think your first question was a good one.

With your second outburst, thank you for saying what most of us respectable types maybe feel, but don't have the imagination or guts to actually say out loud—"you will never wash my feet!". I recognise your indignation only too well. And it shows me how I so often what I proudly like to think of as humility is so often just another attempt to build up my own ego. And it was your outburst that allows me hear Jesus' reply, "unless I wash you, you have no share with me." That is a very deep comment that needs to be felt, not just thought. Humility it seems is a much more subtle affair than I thought.

And thank you Peter too for your third outburst about wanting your head and hands washed too. O yes—it would be so nice to have the Lord wash my head. I think it needs it too. My poor head, crammed with so much useless stuff. And yes, my hands – both my physical hands, and my will that always seems to want to pick things up – yes, they too seem to get sullied. Why shouldn't they be washed if the Lord is now is now into extravagant gestures of washing feet and dying on crosses?

Maybe it helps me look again at my feet – the place where what I so often think of as me meets the ground. It is there that Jesus tells me I need to be washed, as long as I have otherwise bathed. And that I am clean, but not all of us are clean. Yes Peter, I recognise you in me. But am I willing to acknowledge that Judas is lurking there as well, I wonder?

Am I truly willing to wash the feet of others? Whose feet have I washed? No. The servant is not greater than his master.

The son of man has indeed already been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

So, my Lord, I wander with your followers on that first Good Friday, and wonder why did you have to die?