Maundy Thursday: Love One Another
John 13:1-14:3 Mark 14:32-42
Tonight we are continuing our journey with Jesus to the cross. Tonight is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from Latin and it refers to the washing of the disciples’ feet. On Maundy Thursday we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus gives them communion at the last supper. In John Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and gives them, what He calls, a new commandment, which is to love one another. There is a lot happening in this passage in the Gospel of John so I’d like to unpack it a bit.
I think that a lot of us feel a bit like Peter when it comes to the washing of the disciples’ feet: we don’t really understand why Jesus did this. Back then, foot washing was used as a way to welcome people’s guests. The host would provide foot washing for guests, but a servant would do the actual washing. Jesus, here, takes on the role of both host and servant. By offering foot washing, Jesus is welcoming the disciples into His “home” with God. We know that this actual place they are in is not Jesus’ physical home. But, by offering the foot washing, Jesus is inviting the disciples into a deeper relationship with Him. There is a theme running through the entire Gospel of John in which Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father, and Jesus has a close relationship with those He calls His own. And because Jesus’ own are close with Him, they are also close with God the Father. There is a deepening of relationship with God through Jesus in this Gospel. Here in the foot-washing, Jesus is welcoming them into this relationship. He is welcoming them into His home with God.
At the same time, Jesus is servant. He is actually doing the washing Himself. He is demonstrating, by taking on the form of a servant, how He wants His followers to treat each other. Jesus wants us to serve one another, to love one another. But not just when things are nice. Verses 2-5 are actually one long sentence in Greek. When we read those verses we see that the foot-washing takes place in the context of betrayal. The very beginning of this long, three-verse thought says that Judas will betray Jesus. And, the word used to describe Jesus taking off his outer robe is the same word used to describe Jesus laying down his life. So, this act of taking on the form of a servant and washing the disciples’ feet is just like Jesus taking on the form of a slave (as the Apostle Paul says in Philippians), and dying on the cross. In addition, later on, Jesus has a conversation with Peter during the foot-washing, and we know that Peter will deny Jesus. By washing His disciples’ feet in in this context, Jesus is demonstrating that he wants us to serve each other always, even when it’s hard. Even in the context of betrayal, abandonment, and death. Jesus’ parting thought as the servant host is to love one another.
He says this is a new commandment, but why is this commandment new? The Torah is all about loving God and neighbour. The new part of Jesus’ commandment to love another is that this love is supposed to come out of our identity in Christ. It is through Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection that we become united to God in Christ. This new identity shapes who we are as individuals and as a community. When we live out this kind of love, we reflect the image of Jesus to the world. One of the things that I think is so beautiful about Jesus’ gift of the foot-washing is that he offers this to all of the disciples who are at the supper, including Judas and Peter. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him; Jesus knows that Judas will betray Him. This is clear from verse 2, as I said, and the betrayal sets the context for the entire foot-washing scene. Yet, Jesus does not withhold the gift of the foot-washing from any of His disciples.
I think this is a good reminder for us, as we strive to live in community together as a church. As we strive to be the Body of Christ here at Briarwood, we will annoy each other. We will exasperate each other. We will offend each other. But, the love commandment that Jesus gives us, demands that we love each other even when things aren’t going well. If Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, then surely we can bear with one another, no matter what happens.
I was reading in the prayer book that I gave to the session and the staff this week, and one of the passages for this week says, “Carlyle Marney, in one of his greatest sermons, says of Judas that the ultimate tragedy of his life, was not his betrayal of Jesus but that he did not hold on until Sunday to see what God would do with his betrayal and despair. What a tragedy that Judas wasn’t at the tomb on Sunday to see that there is forgiveness even for his sin and relief even from his deep despair.” (A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God, Reuben P. Job, Norman Shawchuck, & John S. Mogabgab, 2013.) It is definitely a tragedy that Judas did not hold out for Sunday. Jesus washed his feet. Jesus invited him into that deep fellowship between Himself, his followers, and God the Father. If Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, surely we can serve one another in the same way. We can take on the form of servants and love each other with free gifts of grace.
Recently, one of our session members gave me a free gift of grace like that. We had finished our session meeting, but it had snowed during the meeting. Ken McCormick, cleared my car of snow while I was tidying up and having some last minute conversations. When I came outside, I was so relieved to see that work already done so that I could just hop in my car and head home after that late night meeting. I remember thinking at the time, that this was like washing the disciples feet, it was like taking on the form of a servant and giving a free gift of love.
Our identity in Christ is defined by being people of grace, being people always ready to give free gifts of love, even in the worst kinds of circumstances. We’ve been talking about spiritual disciplines during Lent because they help us to deepen our relationship with God in Christ so that our identity can truly be in Christ. This is especially important today while we as a society are trying to figure out how to manage social media and information privacy and cyber attacks, and at a time in history when identity politics are at the forefront. All of the situations in the news about companies trying to manipulate elections through Facebook; and politicians trying to get us to hate each other; and other things like that are a reminder that there will always be people and things that will try to draw us away from Jesus. From the beginning of time, there has always been something trying to get people to turn away from God. That’s the point of the serpent in Genesis. And we see Satan manipulating Judas in John. There is always a serpent in life. It takes many forms in all times and in all places. But when we continually turn towards God, when we work on deepening our roots in Jesus, our identity in Christ helps us to turn away from the serpent, no matter what form it takes.
We know that we are following God and not the serpent or Satan or any other power when we live out Jesus’ love commandment. Jesus asks us to do for each other, what He did for the disciples. He commands us to live lives of radical love, giving free gifts of love, grace, mercy at all times and in all places. When we live this way people will know that we are Christ followers. Because this is what Jesus has done for us.
Tonight, in response to Jesus’ command to love one another, we will wash each others’ hands. This is intended to be like the ultimate act of love the Jesus shows his disciples. Just as Jesus laid down his life for us, so we can lay down our lives for each other. Let us take a few quiet moments to lay our lives down at the foot of the cross. This prepares us to give free gifts of love according to Jesus’ command, symbolized in the washing of each others’ hands.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as [Jesus] has 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.” John 13:34-35