“We are the Last Witnesses!”

Maundy Thursday                                                                 24 March 2016

(Exodus 12:1-14   Psalm 116  1 Corinthians 11:23-26   John 13:1-17)


“We are the Last Witnesses!”

[Slide #1…..Blank]

“after he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you?……I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you….I give you this commandment, that you love one another…..”[Jn. 13;12-13, 34].


[Slide #2…..Quote:  “We are the shoes…”]

On this night we usually talk of feet.  Tonight I will be different.  This night I want to talk of shoes.  I will begin with shoes that tell a horrible story of man’s inhumanity to humanity.

[Slide #3…..The “Shoe Collection at U.S. Holocaust…]

At the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there are 4000 shoes collected.  They are sobering reminders of the horrifying acts of senseless killing and torture that took place during the Holocaust.

[Slide #4…..Shoes with lots of red color, U.S. Holocaust,,,]

Notice the sheer quantity, the nauseating smell, the shattered dreams, the heart-break of lost innocence.  These shoes stand as vivid reminders of one of the most horrific traumas the world has ever experienced….baby shoes, new shoes, badly-worn shoes, old shoes, men’s shoes, leather shoes, women’s shoes, black cloth shoes, vintage shoes.

[Slide #5…..Four pair of shoes…..U.S. Holocaust…]

Shoes are arguably the most personal things we own in our brief human existence.  They are a mark of progress, style and more importantly, of civilization.  We only take off our shoes when we retire after a long day of work.  Most of us even die in our shoes.

[Slide #6…..Close-up of shoes…..U.S. Holocaust…..]

Your shoes may know best the struggles of your day.  Only the shoes belonging to the Jews exterminated in the Holocaust lived to tell the story.

[Slide #7…..”Shoe Room” at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem…..]

The Yad Vashem is Israel’s Holocaust Museum in the city of Jerusalem.  As the Yiddish Poet writes, “Shoes are the last witnesses” of the brutality and violence done to the human race.

[Slide #8…..Shoes…Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp…..]

At the death camp, shoes tell a horrifying story…..

[Slide #9…..”Shoes on the Danube”…..]

The “Shoes on the Danube” is a memorial along the east bank of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, to honor Jews who were killed by militiamen, as they were ordered to take off their clothing, including their shoes, before being shot and falling into the river to be washed away.

[Slide # 10…..Close-up of shoes on Danube River Bank…..]

There are 60 pairs of period-appropriate shoes cast out of iron.  Different sizes and styles reflect that nobody was spared from the brutality of the Arrow Cross militia who carried out this atrocity.

[Slide #11…..”Freedom Shoes” in a gloved hand…..]

Yet, in the midst of a darkened world, on a night when we are reminded of the life-saving blood from the first Passover in Egypt, this same night when Jesus anticipates the events of Good Friday with his own life-saving blood of salvation, there comes a glimmer of light.

This glimmer of light begins in a tiny pair of shoes called “Freedom Shoes” given to a Polish-born Israeli teenage girl at the Auschwitz death camp as death imploded around her.  “Let these tiny shoes carry you to freedom,” she was told by a woman, fellow prisoner, who had made them, and was soon taken away.  Batszewa Dagan, now 90-years-old, was carrying these “freedom shoes” with her when, in 1945, the Soviets liberated those still alive at this death camp where 1M European Jews had died.

[Slide #12…..Shoes collected at St. James Lutheran Church…..]

The Gospel Good News comes alive yet one more time in this very church , through the members of this congregation who have spent this season of Lent collecting shoes to be given to the Hogar Migguel Magone foster homes in Guatemala. For children who have no shoes, these will come as gifts to be worn and shared.

Shoes given…..shoes taken…..shoes saved…..shoes collected…..shoes worn.  On this night of nights, we must be reminded over and over again that light glimmers in the dark.

[Slide #13…..”We are the last witnesses!”…sunrise over desert…]

In the community of Christians at Corinth, torn apart by strife over who was and who was not worthy; who was better than someone else; who was more deserving than another, who was expendable and dispensable and not needed–with stern conviction St. Paul writes “…as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death….”…an act of total love for all people.

What we proclaim this evening is that we believe there can be a different world than this one where injustice and violence and killing have become the norm.  This evening we proclaim that we believe there can be a better world for children and families torn apart by violence, and homelessness, poverty and ethnic differences.

This evening we proclaim that we believe it is at this table where, as one people, one community, we are nourished to work together for such a world.  This evening we proclaim that we believe this world, today’s world, our world, can be rooted in the love of Jesus Christ!

In the world in which we live, where too many people are still without dignity and self-respect; where too many children and adults alike are still crying out, are still without friends and parents and shoes, we profess that we have been given a new commandant that begins at the Table of the Lord; “…THAT WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER…..as the Crucified and Risen One has loved us.  As shoes were the last witnesses of such human atrocities, so, we,  together, must be the last witnesses of Christ unbounded  love!  Amen.




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