But his tunic, now that was something special. Underneath that dirty and grimy outer robe was something beautiful to behold. We hear later in John’s Gospel: Now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it. Maybe it was woven by Mary, woven with tender affection and a mother’s touch, a parting gift as he began his ministry. Carefully made, not meant to be sullied by the dirt and grime of the harsh, first-century world he lived in. It must have been clean, as clean as a garment could be in those days. That tunic was something special, something beautiful to behold.
But even before those soldiers dirtied his tunic with their greed, Jesus dirtied it himself. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. There’s the obvious humility and vulnerability Jesus experienced on the cross, naked and abandoned. It’s the image we most associate with his humility, and for good reason. But an important aspect of his humility is lost if we forget this moment of vulnerability. In this simple act of disrobing, of removing his filthy outer robe, and washing his disciples’ feet while wearing his beautiful tunic…in this simple act is a gesture of inexplicable beauty, generosity, and wonder...a gesture that reveals a Savior who held nothing back, who desired nothing more than for his friends, for those he loved, for all of humanity to share in his unparalleled beauty. Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. As he was on his knees, tenderly and humbly cleansing the wearied feet of his friends, that once beautiful tunic was slowly taking upon itself the dirt of those dirty feet. And I have to think that his disciples were taking upon themselves the beauty of the One who was willing to share his goodness and grace in a most undignified way.
That tunic, once shielded from the dirt of the world, was now fully on display, catching the dust from the disciples’ feet, soaking up the dirty water from the towel tied to his waist. Like that tunic, Jesus, the beautiful one, the holy one, the unblemished lamb, was once again taking on the dirt, grime, and grit of the sinful world he came to save. He bowed himself before his fragile friends, put himself fully on display in an act of sheer vulnerability, knelt down as a slave, and showed us what it means to love one another. Knowing he was not long for this world, somewhere deep within his heart, fear was raging enough that he would soon anxiously bleed, but Jesus still thought about everyone else around him, everyone else who needed him, everyone but himself. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' 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. Tonight, let’s take of our outer robes. Let’s set aside our pride, letting it drip away like wax before a flame. Let’s love one another, as Christ has loved us, knowing that the only way to share in his glory is through naked vulnerability. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
*A sermon preached on Maundy Thursday 2016 at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM. The texts were Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and John 13:1-17, 31b-35.