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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Maundy Thursday 03/24/2016

Tonight we begin the Triduum, the Great Three Days that lead to Easter. I would expect a big crowd that day, but every year we bemoan the fact that more people don’t attend the services during the preceding three days because they are so important to the overall story of our faith. We wish more people understood the significance of what we do. Without question there are many reasons for low attendance, but I suspect that one of them is the fact that these aren’t days of celebration. If you’re looking for happy church, you don’t get it in the growing darkness of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. During the Easter Vigil we begin the move toward celebration, but even then there is absence to consider through the nighttime hours until the sun rises on Easter morning. The way that we worship on these days is different.

Based on the gospel text for tonight, it sounds like Peter wouldn’t have wanted to attend these services either. Peter is always an interesting character; of all the disciples he gets the most mention. He’s rather impulsive often seeming to speak and act before he really things through as is the case in tonight’s foot washing text. He’s a very human character though, a combination of good qualities and not so good qualities, and I think that’s a big part of why many of us can identify with him. He’s flawed, and so are we.

Relative to tonight’s gospel, we know the rest of the story so we know what happens with Peter; we know that one of his most serious flaws will be exposed as he will deny Jesus three times before the night is over. Prior to that denial though, this was loyal Peter, impulsive yes, but absolutely devoted to Jesus. The trouble is, his loyalty and devotion was a bit misguided or rather than misguided it’s perhaps more accurate to say that Peter was so over the top in his enthusiasm about Jesus that it caused him to miss completely or fail to understand the things Jesus really wanted him to understand.

Peter was intent on seeing Jesus as a superior being, a person to be exalted and venerated and Peter would do what he could to make others see the same thing. He would be Jesus’ campaign manager. Jesus was all that Peter thought he was; he was a figure to be exalted and venerated, but he was also more than that or maybe less than that depending on how you look at it.

What’s emphasized in tonight’s gospel is Jesus as a servant and that’s the part Peter couldn’t deal with. There had been other signs of Jesus’ servanthood along the way, but when he wrapped himself with a towel and set out to wash the feet of his disciples, Peter couldn’t handle it. That was not a role that fit with Peter’s aspirations for Jesus so in typical Peter style he responded impulsively with “You’ll never wash my feet!” and you can hardly blame him.

This wasn’t a job for Jesus and if we’re honest, we would all agree with Peter. Even the way we do the foot washing liturgy these days which is pretty sanitary, basically clean foot sprinkled with a little water and dried by a nice soft towel, most of you want no part of it, I know that, and if I was sitting out there I wouldn’t either. As the one assuming the role of Jesus and performing the ritual, even though I get to keep my shoes on, I can’t say that I look forward to it every year either. It always feels kind of awkward.

When Jesus came back at Peter though, saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me,” then impulsive Peter does the big flip-flop and he’s pretty much ready for a full bath: “Not just my feet, but my hands and my head too!” Even though he didn’t like it, even though he didn’t understand it, he was ready to do whatever it would take to stay in Jesus’ good graces so he could continue to be president of the fan club. It’s easy to be critical of Peter concerning his failure to understand, but of course it’s not just him; he was representative of what most of Jesus’ followers wanted him to be, representative of what a lot of us want him to be.

Peter had been around Jesus for awhile, but he still didn’t see the difference that Jesus represented. He was blinded by what the world thought a powerful figure should be like. He was ready to worship Jesus but he was expecting him to be like an emperor who would stand up to the Romans and make Israel great again and he knew that no self-respecting emperor would stoop to wash anyone’s feet. That would be a sign of weakness and it didn’t fit the profile Peter had in mind for Jesus. Much of what we do here tonight and tomorrow doesn’t fit with Peter’s profile; there’s nothing to celebrate. Because of that, like a lot of other people, Peter would probably be home watching basketball tonight rather than recalling the events of Thursday and Friday.

Peter didn’t understand the difference that Jesus represented. He didn’t understand that in Jesus terms like power and glory were being redefined. It wasn’t because he was impulsive that Peter didn’t understand, it’s because it was and still is hard to understand. In Jesus, power is made perfect in weakness; majesty is revealed in lowliness, humiliation and death and for logical people, none of that makes sense. In Jesus’ Passion, terms are redefined. Rather than assuming worldly power, Jesus gives himself up to worldly power in order to ultimately transform it, demonstrating that real power is found in sacrifice and service to others.

Living in God’s kingdom isn’t about lusting for power and to demonstrate that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He did it to highlight the new commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you,” a commandment that really wasn’t all that new except in the depth of the love that would be revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Peter didn’t get it and we still struggle with love revealed in such a way which is, I suspect, why many prefer to skip these days and wait until Easter to show up. Then we get the Jesus we want, the Risen Christ. Now that’s glory! It is; but in the Kingdom of God, glory is also Jesus wrapped in a towel washing the feet of his disciples; glory is Jesus on the cross, giving himself for our sake.

It’s not business as usual tonight or tomorrow or tomorrow night or Saturday. It’s not business as usual, but it is important business. It’s good that we’re here.

Pastor Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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