The handshake game When you came in this morning many of you greeted each
other with a gesture; some bowed, some embraced, some took each other by the hand and shook them. The latter is a simple gesture indicating trust and good intentions, and yet it’s not simple. I read an article once that tried to say that how we shake hands indicates something about the nature of the relationship. They say, the person with the upper hand is the dominant, the soft handshake can reveal a lack of enthusiasm (or an injury) for the practice, or an uncertainty about acceptance. Whereas a bone crusher is trying to impress you, some would suggest immaturely.
Our actions, including our bodily gestures, are an important aspect of what we say we believe; how we greet others tell them what they can expect from us and it’s this context of lived-out faith that want us to look at this aspect of resurrected living – being servant leaders.
Demonstrating the point Today we see Jesus opening his very important final instructions with an act of startling servanthood; washing the feet of His disciples. The context is very important: Jesus is about to suffer and die out of a complete and abiding love for these ordinary people with whom he has just shared the last three years of His life – love that would endure to the end of all things. This is not a final lesson in being humble, this is about the core of it all; that love drives one to give one’s self, one’s self-respect for the sake of the beloved, even, it would be seen, to the point of a horrible death.
Tying the towel around his waist was an indication that Jesus was about to serve them, but to take on the role of the least respected slave, was stunning and dramatic. Peter has been twitching with embarrassment as the loved Lord goes from one to the other, so when his turn comes he can stand it no longer and exclaims that one they love so much and who loves them should not be on His knees washing their feet – especially long after they entered. He decides to draw an end to this awful scene – but Jesus patiently teaches Him that this act is key to all that He is about. Unless I wash you, you have no share in me. Dear impulsive Peter responds generously that Jesus should wash everything then – but Jesus puzzlingly says that Peter is already clean enough, only his feet need to be cleansed.
What Jesus is saying, is that in being joined to Jesus by faith, Peter is already in a state of purity before God, and is only in need of the removal of the dirt of everyday living. But even this cleansing is a symbol of that cleansing that depends the efficacy of Jesus’ death. Which he then goes on to say they as his disciples must copy and teach – that this is the very essence of Christian leadership. It’s not just a matter of knowing the correct facts about Jesus and His teachings, or even of teaching them, it is also a matter of doing the truth. If it really is the truth then as leaders we must all do this, without exception. (A word about leaders: here I’m not just pointing at the elders, or leaders of various groups, but at the fact that as those who have been shown the way to eternal life, and carry the command to show others, we are all leaders who believe in Jesus Christ – again without exception. So this applies to all of us.)
Therefore it is in the end the love of God shown in the whole concrete appearance of His Son in flesh and blood, and above all and finally in his death, that evokes and makes possible the mutual love of His faithful disciples. (Bishop Sir Edwin Hoskyns.)
Resurrection loving As the community of the resurrection of Jesus we are charged to live out His commitment to this ailing world. His commitment is self-giving love reaching out to overcome the darkness of lives in competition for honour and respect and preference. The love that drove Jesus to His knees with a bowl and and a towel, and culminated in his death of the cross, is the love in which we are called to lead this ailing world to relationship with the God who loves and treasures them more than they could ever conceive. Not by grumpy demands for compliance, but in patient and enduring respect for those for whom Jesus died as well as us.
We are to model such love in our mutual respect, selflessness and cheerful service for one another; yes that means each and every person with whom we share this communal space in our place and time, no matter how annoying, or insulting, or frustrating, or even suspicious. Otherwise how will we truly love those who haven’t been overwhelmed with the Good News of God’s preference for them. If we can’t treat people we do know with respect how will we ever convincingly reach out to people we don’t know. We’ve been released from our own faults and short-comings and now live in that freedom, let’s accord that amazing reality to others.