The Holy Gospel according to John the 13th Chapter
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. 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.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
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 to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 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.
Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.”
Maundy Thursday is my favorite day of the church year and is a microcosm of what it means to be human. Within this day are highs and lows, joy and pain, trusting community and fearful betrayal. From the Latin, Maundatum, for commandment, it is the day that Jesus gives his new commandment to his disciples – to love one another, as he has loved them. It is the day that Jesus and his disciples gather to share a Passover meal, and he commanded them to eat and drink in remembrance of him – giving his disciples a great gift of his presence in the sacrament of communion. It is the day that Jesus knelt in humility to wash their feet, Judas betrayed him, and Jesus is arrested in the garden, and taken away.
While each of the Gospel give us the story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples – it is John that shows us this vignette of our savior kneeling before his disciples to wash their feet. John’s Gospel is known for many things, not least of which, emphasizing Jesus elevated role as God’s son and eternal being of the triune God. The light of the world, present at creation and doing what only God can do.
John lifts up Jesus’ connection with the Father – I and the Father are one. John’s Gospel portrays Jesus sharing some very weighty theological statements about who he is, and his purpose. I am the bread of life. I am the way the truth and the life. It is also John’s gospel which offers us the most humble portrait of Jesus – taking on the role of a slave, likely a female slave, performing an intimate task of service for his students.
This night is the turning point – there’s no going back now. But the assigned readings for Maundy Thursday skip over the betrayal of Judas in the gospel assigned for tonight, preferring to focus on the meal and the humility of Christ. But in our brevity, we overlook the fact that Jesus had shared the meal with Judas. Jesus had also washed Judas’ feet, the disciple turned betrayer.
When Judas had gone out, it is only then Jesus state cryptically ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. The action speeds towards the cross, but not before John’s gospel records more of Jesus cryptic parting words to his sad and confused disciples.
There is no more mention Judas. Jesus being one with the Father, knew the path they were on would result in glory. But not before sadness and heartbreak. And while still seated around the table with his friends, he tells them not to let their hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in him. While this is a popular funeral scripture, the very first prayer of the funeral service, reminds me of the vibe around that table, as Jesus says goodbye.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all mercy and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we can comfort others in their sorrows with the consolation we ourselves have received from God.”
As Jesus stoops to serve his disciples – he consoles them with God’s love. We do a service to each other when we are able to sit around the table with each other – even in grief and sadness or confusion – and remind one another of that love. Because Jesus isn’t just instilling a command to individuals – he’s making a community. God does this for us, and we are to do it for each other. To both give and receive – though I’ll admit it’s sometimes much harder to be on the receiving end of love enacted in service, than it is to be the server.
Earlier in the week, Jesus was at the home of his closest friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The religious authorities were none too happy with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, as it caused a disruption and caused people to question things… Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber offers us a window into love given and received during Holy Week through the gift Mary gives to Jesus.
Remember that famous “jesus wept” verse…well that was when he stood at Lazarus’ tomb. He loved them. But they also loved him. We don’t talk about that much – the way in which Jesus was loved. We speak of how he showed love, gave love, was love. But what about the way in which he received love?
Mary removed the cork stopper from the jar she carried, and perfume filled the room, infusing it with a sad beauty. She loved him. She loved Jesus enough to cook for him, laugh with him, tease him, cry with him, and now, anoint his feet for him with the perfume she bought knowing he’d be killed soon. See, she’d seen death take Lazarus and she knew it was also coming for the one who raised him. Everyone got really quiet as she reached for the feet of her friend, covered them with perfume, and wiped them with her unbound hair. I’ve wondered all week, how did he receive this love? Was he like me, hesitant, suspicious, resistant? Was he needy? Embarrassed? Did he try and get her to stop? Or did he receive this love with a heart that was open knowing this was exactly what he needed to get through the last week of his life. I don’t know.
But I do know that five days later, he was reclining at the dinner table with his disciples, who were finishing off the last of the hummus, when suddenly he carries a small basin of water over to Peter and the others. Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, the Gospel says of that night. He washed their dusty feet and dried them with a towel that he had tied around his waist. I do not know how he received the love from Mary in the moment she offered it to him. But given what he did at a dinner 5 days later, I know that Jesus became what he received.
(Nadia Bolz Weber https://thecorners.substack.com/p/a-mini-sermon-for-maundy-thursday)
Jesus’ love makes us into a community of love. To love and serve means to kneel when we want to climb on a soapbox. To participate when we’d rather watch. To cheer each other on, building each other up, when it seems easier to go every man for themselves.
To allow ourselves to be vulnerable when God sees our dirty feet and grabs a towel. To eat and drink what our Lord offers for us, and open the table to others who need nourishment.
To be present with each other in the highs and the lows of our life together.
We become what we eat – the body of Jesus in this world – commanded to serve and love – we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Amen.
Pastor Erin Evans