I have a friend who recently took the plunge to spit into a tube and send it to Ancestry.com to see who he matched with his DNA. This was a very big move for him, at least 45 years in the making because my friend was adopted. Throughout his life he has wondered about his birth family but he also watched his adoptive mother’s expression of pain and fear whenever his other adopted brother said he wanted to find ‘his real parents.’ He loved his adoptive parents and felt they had given him a world of loving support, but now they had both been dead over 10 years and he was feeling like it was time. He was filled with anxiety in taking this step because it could cause an avalanche of unwelcome connections and associations that he may not be ready for. My friend also felt a deep sense of betrayal, wondering what kind of people would give up their baby for adoption? Wondering why they didn’t want him? Wondering how he could ever trust the people who did that to him? He is a father of three and cannot fathom making a decision like that.
Tonight, as we contemplate our Maundy Thursday service, we see these same questions of betrayal surface. The Gospel text in John tells us about the Last Supper foot washing and the command of love, but leaves scriptures out—specifically the betrayals of Judas and Peter. What is left out in the middle is the scripture where Judas takes the bread and goes out into the night—an illusion to going to the darkness. And at the end of the scriptures, in verse 38, Jesus tells Peter he will deny him three times. These are Christ’s betrayers—the very ones who will turn their backs on a trusting relationship with Him. We are left with Jesus’ command to do what he has done for us and to love one another, but without the betrayals that show those commands are beyond our ability to fulfill.
Think of what these men have on their feet—more than dust. There are animals and sewage in the streets of Jerusalem. He is washing the filth of the world from them—symbolic of He will do the same thing with his blood on the cross. What would it feel like to know that you had or will betray Christ, and then to have him wash your feet? The betrayer being loved and washed by the person who was hurt. Is this a love we are capable of? I would say no. Christ is showing us in this passage what He will do for us that we cannot possibly do ourselves The Holy Spirit can work through us to bring us to that level of service and humility with our betrayers, but we are not capable of that level of love. Christ washes the feet of his betrayers—who are all of us. We also betray a trusting relationship with Christ by going with the world into the darkness as Judas did.
So tonight, as we have our feet washed, there is much to think about. Who are the betrayed and who are the betrayers in this room? As Christ Church, the historical white Episcopal church in town, we know that we have a checkered history as betrayers of trust in racial and economic matters. As men and women, we have histories of betrayal of trust in safety and vulnerability. As children of parents we trusted, we have been betrayed. As neighbors, we have betrayed each other. As humans, with a proclivity towards self-interest and a general pre-occupation with self, we have betrayed the trust relationship with others and especially with God. No one Is exempt from the role of betrayer nor of betrayed. We are uncomfortable with having our feet washed because they are smelly, ugly, unsightly and make us feel very vulnerable, which is the point. We betray Christ and each other and it is not pretty. We need to be reminded of that and how Christ’s blood washes this Sin from us so that we can be reconciled to Christ.
And what about my friend and his DNA? He got a call from a man who said he was his biological father. They met and he found out that the man had become a very compassionate Pediatrician because he had given up his first born son to adoption when he as a teenager. Then he met his mother, who had prayed for him every day of his life that he would have a loving home and come to know the love of Jesus in his lifetime. These parents that he felt had betrayed him at birth had placed him into the trusting arms of God and let him rest there until he was ready to find them. It was a redemption you cannot hope for or know to pray for, but one that God knew all along.
In our Hoy Eucharist Rite 1, we say, ”For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it.” The Lord Christ did this for us, knowing that we are incapable of honoring his loving relationship to us because of Sin. As our Holy Week preface tells us, “he became the author of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in Him.” May we acknowledge our failure to trust him as we praise him for loving us “to the end.” Amen