Yesterday I was sharing a cup of coffee with a member of the church where I serve as pastor. Since it was Maundy Thursday, we were talking about all the services going on during Holy Week.
“You know that Maundy Thursday service you did a few years ago was one of the most meaningful services I have ever participated in.”
Quickly, I tried to think of the service he was talking about. Unfortunately, all the Maundy Thursday services seemed to meld into one: reading passages from the Old Testament about the Exodus, reading passages from the Gospels about the Last Supper, celebrating communion, perhaps a foot washing thrown in. I could not think of one, special Maundy Thursday service. I thought maybe it was a sermon I had preached that made the service so meaningful for this particular gentleman.
Since he is in his nineties and has been an active church participant all of his life, I was curious to discover what exactly made this service so important in his memory. So I said, “I’m not sure I know exactly which service you mean. What makes that particular service stand out in your mind?”
“Well, after communion you had a time to do a foot washing. Your son came forward and you washed his feet. He put his shoes back on and started to walk away, then stopped, came back and washed your feet. I’ll never forget that.”
Yeah, now I remembered exactly what he was talking about. It was not planned. We had not talked about it beforehand. Only a few people came up to have their feet washed that night. My son, who was seven at the time, came forward tentatively, the last of the congregation to come forward. After having his feet washed and getting up to go back to his pew, he suddenly stopped in the aisle, turned around and said to me, “Nobody has washed your feet. I want to do that.”
I am used to doing things for my son. I enjoy doing things for my son. It is hard for me at times to accept the things he wants to do for me. If we are out, stop for a snack and he offers to pay, I quickly respond, “Keep your money for something special, I’ll get this.” I felt some of that when he asked if he could wash my feet, but it’s hard to tell your child no in front of a church full of people, especially after you just preached about Peter’s reluctance to be washed by Jesus. As I watched my son wash my feet, I felt like I understood Peter’s reluctance in a whole new way.
After the service that night, I asked my son why he wanted to wash my feet.
“Well after you had done it for me, I just wanted to pass it on for someone else and realized no one had washed your feet yet.”
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
My son preached a powerful sermon that night. I knew it had taught me about being able to receive and allowing others to give and going forth to serve others because of what has been done for us. I didn’t realize how much he had preached to others until that conversation over coffee yesterday.
When a man in his nineties, who has been attending church all of his life, credits your sermon with having some of the greatest impact on his life, well I think you have preached the Gospel.