Here’s my sermon for Maundy Thursday.
Tonight I simply want to share with you a story I shared recently on the radio. Something that happened to me a few years ago, in fact six years ago, almost to the day, one Sunny Maundy Thursday when I was in Linlithgow.
It was a Maundy Thursday afternoon, I’d come home from the Chrism mass at the cathedral and we had just adopted out son Gavin. Just – as in, he’d been with us for five days. And at the Rectory door knocked a young man who I’d got to know. He was homeless, and had been hanging around Linlithgow for a while. I had an arrangement with the local shops so if he went in and presented my card they would phone to say it was okay and I’d pay for the food, so I knew he’d been around.
So he turned up at my door, and it was a sunny day and I wasn’t going to let him in the house because Gavin was there and I was feeling a bit protective. So we sat in the Sun and asked for the money to go back to Edinburgh where his family was. We’d spoken a bit about his family and they weren’t very good for him.
He was only 17, althoguh looked older. I don’t know if he was ill but he was thin. He could never look me in the eye. In my job there are lots of different types of people in need. There are those who have mental health or addiction issues, there are those who can’t stop talking, those who want to challenge you those who feel the need to try and fool you into giving them money for their own sense of self worth, and there are those like this young man who couldn’t meet your eye, just was in need and didn’t know how to ask for help without feeling that a part of him was being taken away.
He asked me if I had any spare clothes, and I gave him some, and he wanted shoes. I had a spare pair, but when he took his shoes and socks off, his feet were a mess. I’d worked with homeless folk enough to know how easy it is to get some horrible infections in his feet, so I insisted that we wash them. He didn’t want to because they were painful, but I got a bowl and water and washed his feet. It hurt him, but I took my time, and we waited in the sun as his feet dried and hardened off. He wasn’t a talker so we didn’t really talk about what was to come, but I felt a closeness to him and I desperately wanted to take care of him. But he wanted to get back to Edinbrugh so I bought him a train ticket and put him on the train and that was that, I never saw him again.
And then that evening I did what we will do now, washed the feet of my congregation. Differerent feet, different ages, different people. The lesson I learned.
You can’t do everything for people. They won’t let you. And you mustn’t. But the very little that we can do,we have to do. We must do that little, tiny thing, because not doing it is to despair and doing it is to have hope.
I wonder often how Jesus felt when he said those words – it sounded as though there was a bit of desperation in there. “See to it that you love one another”. He didn’t say “make sure you hang on to my beliefs” or “see that you uphold the doctrine”. It was “whatever you do, don’t let do of love.” Somehitng that he practiced as well as preached, even to the bitter, painful end.
Why did it matter so much? Because it is all that does matter. Because those small acts of love are not a means to an end, they are the end.
I preached before about how Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with her perfume, her one treasure. A small little gesture, but the perfume would still have been on his feet today when, inspired by her, he washed his own disciples feet. When we
remember the words of the penitent thief on the cross, those tiny words of grace in a horrific situation, then those little things become enormous, huge. Don’t ever underestimate the small kindnesses we do.
Jesus never stopped, even at the end, giving acts of kindness. It’s not about results, it is about pouring love into the world by every means that love may choose. It is about simply filling the earth with goodness and making that our only aim. Love is an intrinsic good in itself. If we learn anything about the new commandment, it is that. Love is not a means to a better world. It is the end in itself.
I have no idea what happened to that young man. I hope his life got better. I suspect it didn’t. I don’t know if he’s still with us. But I hope he remembers that at least, someone thought enough of him to wash his feet. And I hope that you know tonight, that someone thinks enough of you to wash yours.