Tonight we begin the Christian Passover, the Pascha.
Tonight we begin the celebration—that three day celebration—that defines who we are— that makes us who we are.
Tonight we begin the celebration of our liberation from Pharaoh, from Empire, from the fallen powers of the world, and from the great enemy of God, Death itself.
Tonight we begin the Passover of the Lord.
In the Passover Jews celebrate their liberation from slavery, liberation from Empire as it took shape in Egypt. It is a celebration that doesn’t recognize a difference between religion and politics. Think about it… When Moses stood before Pharaoh and God spoke through Moses saying, “Let my people go,” was that a religious act or a political act?
In Jesus’ time, too, religion and politics weren’t two discreet things. Not for Jews. Not for Romans, either.
The occupying Roman Empire knew that around the time of the Passover the Jews were singing songs of liberation—anti-Imperial songs. The Empire knew that the Jews had been waving Palm branches when Jesus entered Jerusalem, like the palm branches they had waved when the Maccabees won their revolt against the occupation of Antiochus Epiphanes and retook the Temple with song.
Passover was a time of celebration, but also of political tension and of hope. If God liberated the Israelites from Egypt, could God liberate them from Empire again?
Jesus had been hailed as king as he entered Jerusalem. The people waved palms and sang anti-Imperial songs of liberation. They hoped that he was the longed for Messiah—the King who would finally free God’s people from the oppression of Imperial power once and for all.
- Jesus, who had cast the demons called Legion (that word is not an accident) out of the oppressed/possessed Jewish man;
- Jesus, who was willing to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar but insisted on giving to God what belonged to God;
- Jesus, who, when asked if he’d paid his taxes didn’t seem to take the question seriously, saying, “No, I forgot, but can you grab me that fish?” and found enough to pay taxes in the mouth of that fish.
He had been hailed as king and so they were expecting him finally to take up his sword, inspire his army, and get this thing going. And when the time seemed right, he gathered his closest friends around him and it began. He removed his outer garment and reached for the weapon he would use to begin the final battle.
A sword? A bow? A spear? No. Not a sword. Not a bow. Not a spear. But a towel (the instrument of a servant), and then a meal which, he said, was his own life given away. He washed the feet of his disciples, and then he fed them his own Body and Blood, his own life.
My sense is that the disciples had to have been confused. They usually were. Remember Peter had said, “There’s no way you’re going to be killed, Jesus. You’re the Messiah,” and James and John had asked for the good seats in the kingdom, and so on.
And so here comes the Messiah, the long awaited King, and as he starts his revolutionary war he explains to them that, as Shane Claiborne puts it, this King “rules with a towel, not a sword. In the Kingdom of God we descend into greatness.” 1
The disciples had to be confused. They usually were. But to be fair, aren’t we, too?
Tonight we share in this foot-washing. We’ll be told, in Jesus’ own words, that as he has done for us we should do for others an,d so we first have our feet washed by a member of Christ’s Body, and then we, in turn, do the same for another. But don’t think that doing for others as he has done for us stops with the washing of feet. Jesus is up to more than that in the next couple of days. But it’s at least that. Tonight Jesus our revolutionary King invites us to take on his mission, his revolution, as our own. The King is about to take his throne and he’s asking us to share in his rule of the Kingdom, but make no mistake, rulers in this Kingdom wash feet. That’s the kind of King he is. That’s the kind of Kingdom he’s inviting us to and empowering us for.
And tonight this King will also give us his Body and Blood, his very life given for us, received into us, but first it has to be broken and poured out so that we can share it. But once we’ve received it into ourselves and he lives in us and we in him, then make no mistake, what he has done for us, we will do for others. We’ll be broken and poured out, too, so that our lives, like his, may be shared in and for the world, and Jesus be shared in and for the world, in and through us.
Though it’s ultimately lost the war, Empire still furiously resists God’s Kingdom.
But we have been made one with Christ, and so have become revolutionaries with him for the Kingdom of God, fighting Empire with the towels of servants and with food—life— given for the life of the world.
1 Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, 123.