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9th July 2024

Time for a Wash?

Preacher:

Time for a Wash?!
In the last of our services looking at the theme ‘Home: safe, hostile, or a place
remembered?’, former members Phil Wall and Clare Veal offered the following reflection...

Readings: John 13:2-9; Matthew 27:15-24

Wowser. So what have we got here? Two iconic moments. Two days apart. Two hugely
important and symbolic acts. The first takes place in that upper room where Jesus and
friends are about to enjoy a Passover meal – remembering God’s goodness in past times by
feasting together and enjoying a cup of wine or two – that’s my kind of religious festival! Of
course, we know how things are going to end…that this is their last meal together before
the cross…and Jesus likely does too so, like a good teacher giving an end of lesson recap, he
gives his pupils oral and visual reminders which sum up all he’s taught them… the command
to love one another; the cup of wine, the broken bread…and here – the act of service.
Washing a guest’s feet was a common practice in first century Palestine, but it wasn’t the
host who would do it, or even another guest – it was the task of the servant. Yet here, in an
act that shocked Peter – and most people of the day – Jesus washes the feet of his friends
and later tells them – ‘Just as I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet – you also
ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should follow…
and you’ll be blessed if you do!’

Then we've got Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate - who offers an alternative way of living.
There he is, the day after the foot-washing, deliberating what to do with Jesus. He’s spent a
little time with him and knows he’s no violent criminal. In fact Pilate and Jesus have a
thought-provoking conversation on Truth - the kind of chat that Clare gets annoyed about if
| start just before bedtime! Anyway - Pilate thinks this Jesus guy is harmless...and Pilate’s
wife has even warned him to free Jesus because of a dream she had about him. But Pilate’s
getting pressured by the religious leaders to silence this Nazareth upstart for good so he
doesn’t think he can just let Jesus go. Instead, he passes on the responsibility to others!
Pilate remembers that the governor gets to pardon a prisoner on the Day of Passover - a
kind of festival treat to the Jews. So he offers the crowds the choice - well known thug or
innocent man - Barrabas or Jesus...to be released. To Pilate’s frustration and confusion, the
crowd go for Barrabas, and call for Jesus to be crucified instead. Pilate tries to reason with
them - ‘Why do you want him crucified?’ He asks them ‘What crime has he committed?’ But
it’s too late...the crowd have been whipped up. They want Jesus dead. So - even though his
wife, his reason, his conscience tells him to do otherwise, Pilate goes with the crowd, and
symbolically washes his hands, thus denying any responsibility for his decision and claiming
‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’.

Two iconic moments. Two hugely important and symbolic acts. Two alternative ways of
living. One that values service, humility, solidarity; the other that denies responsibility,
choosing the easy path and our own self-interests over the needs of others. I wonder where
we have seen echoes of either of these in the last week or so? I wonder whether we have
mirrored such actions in our living recently. Let’s take moment to think about that as we

sing the refrain and first verse of the Ghanian hymn

‘Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show
us how to serve the neighbours we have from you’.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.
Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

Okay – where were we? Jesus and Pilate. Two acts of washing. One demonstrating service to
others; the other denying responsibility for others. I wonder, then, if the question we need
to be asking ourselves today is how does my living, our living, reflect the way of Jesus and
how does it resemble that of Pilate. In our homes, churches, our world…do we see and treat
other people as sisters and brothers whose needs we are responsible for; or do we deny our
shared humanity and shirk from doing the right thing, if it’s a bit inconvenient for ourselves?

So let’s start with our actual homes – the flat or house in which we live. How does our living
at home reflect the way of Jesus…or of Pilate? In the past few years, I know that some of
you here did the truly inspiring thing of welcoming Ukrainian refugees into your own home…
which is just incredible and an obvious example of embodying sacred solidarity…and
something that I don’t think I could have done. I was living in a manse at the time – one that
a few of you have been to – and asked my Moderator whether ministers could have
refugees in the manse to which he gave a negative reply…and to which I breathed a sigh of
relief!

And if you felt similarly, I don’t think we’re to be wracked with guilt…for often guilt is
paralysing and unhelpful and still all about me. Some of us will naturally have an open door
kind of mentality; others are more ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’, whilst others still don’t
have the space or resources to do such a grand act of hospitality. But what each of us do
have is the ability to welcome the stranger, serve the guest, love the other in different,
everyday ways. Perhaps, for some of us here, that might mean reflecting on how we treat
those we live with – is it with grace and gratitude – could we be a bit more kind,
understanding, patient? For others, it might prompt us to consider who we can welcome
round our dinner table every so often, or simply who we can call up from the comfort of our
armchair, to check in with, to listen to, to love. We can all live out Jesus’ way of sacred
solidarity in our own homes. So how might you do that this day? This week? Perhaps we
might think of that now as we sing another verse of the hymn…

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbours to us and you.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

So – sacred solidarity like Jesus or selfish individualism like Pilate…I wonder how we live that
out in our home church – here, at St. John’s. Well, earlier, I shared just a couple of my
memories of this community…but I could share so, so many more. Hearing the pennies
dropping with Linda Boland; or time to go home at playgroup. The high of being slave
number 3 in Moses and the low of soaking Catherine Offord at Ashburnham. Life as a
pathfinder, a Questor, a Questor leader…hide and seek on Holy Saturdays and last minute
prep on Christmas Eves. Trips to Butlin’s and Bethlehem; pantomimes and musicals;
weddings and baptisms.

It’s with you that I first heard about God’s extravagant love for me – and for the entire
cosmos. With you I experienced life-changing loss and breath-taking joy. With you I learnt
about community, forgiveness, divine hope. In short, I am who I am because of you. So
you’re to blame! And to thank. And that’s true of all of us. No person is an island. Every
single one of us is the sum of the experiences, the pains, the triumphs, the people with
whom we live.

Many of you will know the South African phrase ‘ubuntu’ – which Desmond Tutu translated
as ‘I am because we are’. Whether we like it or not, our lives are interwoven. So we must
rely on, and be responsible for, the lives of others – their successes and suffering; their
mistakes and magnificence. In the very person of Jesus God showed that you don’t love
something by excluding or judging it…but by uniting with it. So God became human and
taught us to serve one another – not to look out for ourselves. So thank you for looking out
for me. And Clare. And Sharon, Sid, Babs, Yvonne, Nicola…for our families – and for one
another. I wonder how you continue to live out such sacred solidarity in this home church.
And I also wonder, whether you can strengthen, even extend it in the coming years. Let’s
sing again…

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

Neighbours are wealthy and poor,
varied in colour and race,
neighbours are near us and far away.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

Okay – so – sacred solidarity in our personal homes; our home church; and finally, you’ll all
be relieved to hear, on our home planet. How are we to live like Jesus, rather than Pilate, as
part of God’s world?! Well – that’s no small question which would take us a good few weeks
to unpack…and you might well want to do that, especially for next month’s refugee week
which is also using Home as its theme. Worth looking up.

In the meantime, given the events of the past week, perhaps a significant question to ask is
how does our faith impact our voting? Don’t worry – you’re not going to get some party
political broadcast here as that’s not what the pulpit should be for…though I’m with
Archbishop Tutu, again, when he said “When people say that religion and politics don’t mix,
I wonder which Bible it is they are reading”!!!

Whether we look to the Old Testament laws about how to treat widows, orphans, and
foreigners; to Jesus’ radical manifesto in Luke 4; or to the sweep of teaching about the
outcast, the refugee, the prisoner – all of which Jesus had been – our faith simply has to
affect our politics. So, as we head into election season, perhaps we need to look at the
various parties and reflect on which ones speak of solidarity – with our neighbours, with
siblings abroad, with the Earth itself – and which ones promote the interests of the
individual. To whether leaders talk of serving one another, or seek to blame others and deny
all responsibility.

‘For I have given you an example that you should follow’ Jesus told his friends, as their feet
dried off…’and you’ll be blessed if you do!’ That’s the thing about serving others – about
living out sacred solidarity in our homes, church, world…it’s in the act of service, that we are
served. In blessing others that we are blessed. That’s the divine dance, the holy flow. And
when we come to realize that God united with us in Jesus – that the Creator of the universe
put aside power and set-apart-ness to don our flesh, to live our humanity, to serve,
welcome, wash, walk to the cross and be raised as the God with us…then we can truly begin
to glimpse God’s love and heed God’s call to wash feet, not hands, in our homes, our
churches, our world. So let us, one final time, sing our hymn as we make those words our
prayer…

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

Loving puts us on our knees,
serving as though we are slaves:
this is the way we should live with you.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,

show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.

To God be the glory. Amen.