Take Off Your Shoes – A Maundy Thursday Sermon

It has not been the recent custom to include a full sermon in the Maundy Thursday 7:30pm liturgy at Augustana. Here is what I would have preached, and did preach in Spanish at 5:30:

Take off your shoes, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Anyone who has shared in the yearly tradition of watching Charleton Heston’s “Ten Commandments” will recognize those words, spoken in the deep voice of God as Moses is standing before the burning bush, when he is told to remove his sandals. Place your human feet upon the good earth, and realize that this place is holy.
This night, in this church that we call home, we are no less on holy ground. This place has seen so many moments of profound meaning. Here prayers have been uttered, silently and aloud, music has been sung to the glory of God, and the Word of life has been heard. Here we find the space in our hectic world to slow down and contemplate the One who has given us life. Here we find community with one another, the broken and restored body of Christ. Here, in this place, we are on holy ground.
This night that sense of holy ground takes on added depth and meaning, for tonight we begin our journey into the three most holy days of the year. Jesus shares his last supper with the disciples this night, and tomorrow he will be crucified. We will then wait until the astounding good news of his resurrected light enters this sanctuary. These three days – this Triduum, as the church has traditionally called it, we are on holy ground as we once again become deeply immersed in the story that gives us life. It is a story beyond understanding, beyond explanation. Our human words fall short and miss the mark, especially when we try to turn Jesus into a formula for our salvation. We are on holy ground, and all we can do is remove our shoes and wait in awestruck silence.
But wait, what is this? What is happening here? My Lord Jesus is doing more than speaking as we gather in this place. He is doing something that I cannot even fully take in. He is removing his outer garment, he is tying a towel around his waist like a servant, and he is kneeling before my bare feet. These feet that have wandered so many places. These feet that have sometimes danced with joy. These feet that have sometimes ached with pain. These feet that have, at times, led me to where I did not mean to be, did not want to be, did not want to admit I had been. Jesus is touching my feet, bathing them in warm water, washing them clean of all that clings. How can this be? Here I am on holy ground, and now the Holy has bathed itself right over me.
Jesus has only a short while left on this earth, and what is he doing this night, on this holy ground? He is reaching out to us with the hands of a servant, pouring himself out in one last act of love, and giving us an example – a pattern for our lives with one another.
What would it mean to look at one another and realize that we stand on holy ground? I do not mean just when we are in church, but always. What if, the next time you go into someone’s home, especially a home where it is customary to remove your shoes, what if there you hear the words of God in your mind – take off your shoes from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground? What if, padding around your own house in bare feet, you thought the same? What if you truly saw the person before you with the eyes of Jesus, and reached out your hands to give the love that has been given you, bathing them in the care and tenderness with which our Lord has bathed us? We may not actually wash someone else’s feet outside of these walls, but our lives can touch another’s with the Lord’s love in other ways, aware of the awesome privilege of doing so. If we do that – if we truly follow our Lord, we will indeed be on holy ground.
For you see, in his simple act of service, Jesus has turned our understanding of the holy on its head. Jesus has reached out with the hands that formed the universe to bath us, washing over us a holy spirit that cannot be taken from us. We are baptized in that water, and we are, from that moment on, infused with the holy, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Jesus has shown us that the love of God pours out to us, enveloping us, and calling us to a life of holiness, seeing one another with the eyes of God.
And that means everyone. Jesus has turned all of our expectations upside down, and that includes all those presuppositions about who is in the holy circle. If he can wash Judas’s feet, surely we can see all around the table as bathed in the holy. Our call to love is not about warm feelings, and it is not our choice to decide who is in the holy circle. Our call to love, to serve is much more radical than that. Jesus is talking about that guy we just told someone else that we cannot stand, the woman whose “nice” surface barely covers her biting comments, the homeless man who yelled at you when you tried to help him, the protesters in the streets and those who are protesting them, the stranger across the world who is hungry, the teenager glued to her cell phone, the boyfriend she just brought home, the cynics who have injected such vitriol into our common life, the person in prison, your boss, your mother in law, your oldest enemy. Jesus, in his infinite capacity to love sinful, hurting humanity, risked misunderstanding, prejudice, betrayal, and even death to convey God’s love to ALL people, regardless of whatever human categories they might inhabit, and if we truly stand on holy ground, we are called to an equally radical love.
How can we possibly live this? How can we love one another as he has first loved us? How can we realize that we stand on holy ground? Well, here is the truth…we will fall short. We will fail. We will hate and betray and turn away. We will close our heart to the pain we are causing. Good Friday will be our doing. But, we will carry with us this invitation from Jesus – come, take, this is my body given for you. Even as we turn away from the love which Jesus commands, we feel his embrace reaching out to us again, giving us sustenance in the bread from this holy table, and restoring us once again to the possibility of new life.
Beginning with the simple act of foot washing which we will reenact in just a few moments, the astounding pattern of Jesus’ actions these three days turns our expectations upside down, for this pattern that Jesus has given to us is one where the last are first, where masters serve, where love is stronger than death, and where death leads to new life.
As we enter the story of his last days this weekend, we are indeed upon holy ground. We should indeed remove our shoes and remember our unworthiness to be here, and then weep with joy as we realize that Jesus once again is reaching out his wounded hands to bath us in grace. Amen.

Reconciling in Christ

Augustana Lutheran Church is a spiritual community that celebrates the gifts of God that empower us to engage in the struggles of life, to care for each other, and to serve Christ where we work and live. We welcome the participation of people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, educational backgrounds, and economic conditions––all who want to join in community to honor God and be of service to people.

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Augustana Lutheran Church
2100 New Hampshire Ave NW
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