A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on Maundy Thursday
21 April 2011
Text: John 13:1-15

The more you think about it, the stranger this Gospel reading is. We are very used to it, and we have learned what it means, which is a very good thing. But it is also a good thing to step back from the familiar and try to recover the strangeness of what John writes concerning the Last Supper.

The most obvious thing in this passage is that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, and that this was not a natural thing for Him to do. In that culture, where people travelled on foot, wearing sandals, by dinner-time, most people’s feet would be in serious need of washing. A wealthy and hospitable host at a dinner would have the guests’ feet washed for them. You may remember Jesus’ rebuke to Simon the Pharisee, when the sinful woman washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair: “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.” (Luke 7:44). Not having the facilities for washing His feet put Jesus in His place, as less than an honoured guest.

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“Isn’t it the case that we all – and I include myself here – complain so often about the sermon without ever asking whether the real basis for our discontent doesn’t perhaps lie within ourselves? When a hearer gets nothing from a sermon it is not always the sermon or the preacher that is to blame. Listening to sermons is like work, or better yet an art that one must learn. Fruitful listening requires a measure of Christian formation and spiritual receptivity that few seem to possess anymore (in fact, I dare say that I have only seen it today in ‘simple’ people, in farmers and labourers in country areas). The lack of this formation cannot be compensated for by the thundering rhetoric or the emotional eloquence which most people seem to expect nowadays from preachers if they are to stay alert.”

From Hermann Sasse, ‘Concerning the Hearing of God’s Word’, a sermon preached in Erlangen, Germany on Rogate Sunday, 18th May, 1941 (Text: James 1:22-27)[trans. M.A. Henderson].

HT: Cyberbrethren