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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 13, 2017
Maundy Thursday (RCL): Ex. 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Ps. 116:1, 10-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable to you, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

        When you turn to the internet and ‘google’ the phrase ‘show and tell,’ what you get back from Wikipedia is that “Show n’ Tell” is a common expression about showing an audience something and then telling them about it. Many of us remember this from school, right? Well, I learned that in the United Kingdom, North America, New Zealand, and Australia, it is a common classroom activity at early elementary school.  It is used to introduce young children to the skills of public speaking.  For example, a child brings an item from home and explains to the class why they chose that particular item, where they got it, and any other relevant information about it.
        I loved ‘Show n’ Tell’ when I was younger. I learned so much about my friends, and sometimes, I even learned something about myself.  Why was that item important?  Did I really want to share it with others?  Why?  How did that make me feel?  I was usually very happy to share my treasures, those things that were special to me, especially things that I loved.
I remember using ‘Show n’ Tell’ once as a team-building exercise in my former corporate world life. What I discovered is that it seems, as we get older, people can become very protective about what they are willing to show or care to share.
        It’s curious that this memory came to me as we approached these three Holy Days. “Show n’ Tell” has certainly found its way into some pulpits already, with preachers offering object-centric sermons.  We might hold or employ (or even project) some particular item that can be easily seen and understood by our congregation to get your attention and, hopefully, make a point that will be memorable.  But tonight, I think of ‘Show n’ Tell’ most specifically because, in many ways, this Maundy Thursday liturgy that we celebrate now is what we as Christians, and specifically as Episcopalian/Anglicans, do as our own form of Show ‘n Tell.
         It was something of that nature that Jesus was doing the night of the Last Supper, as is recorded for us by the evangelist John. In some ways, it comes as a surprise to us just as much as it did to those early disciples.     
We are, of course, expecting the ‘show ‘n tell’ we get in the other Gospel accounts: the tradition of Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread, and blessing and giving wine, to share them with others in remembrance of Him. But John doesn't tell us about that event at all.  Rather, we hear about something that happened at the meal, not reported by the other three evangelists.  He tells this remarkable story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.
        Why did Jesus do it? I suppose he wanted to show and tell them something about himself and something about themselves.
         First, something about himself. It is not clear precisely when this event occurred in relation to the giving of bread and wine, because John says Jesus did it "during supper."  In any event, the foot-washing was another way for Jesus to show the disciples what it meant to give his body and blood.  It was an act of service which no one else could or would do.
         Jesus and his disciples had walked the long way from Bethany (it’s about 2 miles) and their sandaled feet were dusty. The basin and towel were there to be used by the servant appointed for the purpose, but there was no servant.  It was evident, if feet were to be washed, one of them would have to do it.  That was a lot to expect from a bunch of guys who, only a few days previously, had been quarreling about who would have the chief seats in the kingdom!  In their pride, it would seem they preferred that all, including their Master, should eat unwashed, rather than anyone of them doing the task.  In their pride, they failed not only to minister to one another; they failed to minister to Jesus himself.
          I wonder if Jesus was sorrowfully exasperated with them, the way parents may get with their children when they stubbornly insist on their own way, even to their own hurt. Had he walked and talked for three years for nothing?  What more could he say?  How could he express the message of the love of God any more vividly?  What good would more words do if they still did not understand or apply what he had been saying?  So like parents sometimes do, Jesus may have decided an object lesson was in order.  He would act out his own teaching.  He would show them, in a specific way who he was and what his teaching was all about.  He, who had come from God and was about to return to God, would wash their feet.
         In the breaking of bread, Jesus said, "This is my body, given for you." Now, in washing their feet, he quite literally uses his body to show the attitude of humility and service that was part of his mission as the Son of God.  As God laid aside the divine glory in the Incarnation, so Jesus lays aside his garments to do the work of a servant.  He was showing and telling his followers—including all of us-- something about himself: that humility is one of the characteristics of God.
         Isn’t it curious that we rarely think of God as being humble? Maybe because humility is one of those words that can get bad press.  Humility doesn't mean eating dirt.  It means you have confidence enough in who you are that you can recognize yourself even when you get dirty or do work that might be another’s task.  It means you can risk the dirt because your appearance does not have to be defined by the cosmetics of pride.  God is like that.  The God who lived among us in the form, life, and example of Jesus Christ is like that.  While the disciples may still have been thinking about the chief seats in the kingdom, the God who made them was washing their feet.
         Jesus sought also to show and tell us something about ourselves as well.  He tells us that when we participate in his Body and Blood, we also become the foot- washers of the world.  The servant is not greater than the master.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
         When we present-day disciples of Jesus Christ come to eat at this Table, it is appropriate to examine ourselves as to whether we are contemplating those ‘best seats’ or are open to opportunities to serve. The Holy Meal itself should be a reminder of our call to serve the needs of the world.  In the early church, people didn’t show up at worship and find the communion elements all prepared in advance and waiting for them.  No one had prepared the bread or poured wine. They brought their bread and wine with them, presenting them at the time of the offering, for theirs was largely a trading commerce where people dealt in kind.  So the priest would take enough bread and wine to be used for communion, and the rest of it would be distributed to the community’s poor or, perhaps, eaten as a community meal with no regard for social status—this was the astonishing thing in the Roman Empire!  (Go read some of Paul’s letters about this…)
         Participating in communion of the Body and Blood of Christ automatically means being involved in ministering with Christ to the needs of the world. As Christ gave his body and blood for the world, we are called to offer ourselves.  As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, we are called likewise to serve and show honor to one another.  Jesus has given us  -- he has shown us -- an example of what we are to be if we are to follow him in the world, if we presume to partake of his Body and Blood in this holy meal.
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-- and you are right, for so I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have set you an example,  that you also should do as I have done to you.”
         Sometimes we could take the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist for granted, especially for those of us who have been brought up in the life of the church. I hope we always consider this Sacrament a high honor and a precious privilege, to share with the saints in all ages around the banquet table of the Lord.  But remember, please, those saints deserve the name of saint because they went with their Lord all the way.  How could they do any other when they once tasted and saw that the Lord was good?  They were set free to be humble, as are we.  Their spirits could soar into service just so we are called into service in the name of the Lord.
         A preacher once took his congregation on an imaginary tour through the museum of the New Jerusalem. He told about what he saw there: a widow's mite and the feather of a little bird; some swaddling clothes, a hammer and three nails, and a few thorns; a sponge that had once been dipped in vinegar and a small piece of silver; a common drinking cup which had a very honorable place.  Then he asked the attendant: "Have you not got a towel and a basin in your collection?" Can you guess the answer?           "No, not here.  You see, they are in constant use."
        They are in constant use - by us. For us.  For one another.  Because Jesus has shown … and told us … what it means to love and to serve.