March 30, 2024

March 28, 2024, Maundy Thursday

March 28, 2024, Maundy Thursday

Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The story of the last supper in John’s gospel recalls a remarkable event not mentioned elsewhere: Jesus performs the duty of a slave, washing the feet of his disciples and urging them to do the same for one another.


1Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


I don’t love to cook in the way that some people love to cook.  To experiment and mix flavors, to carefully choose ingredients and lovingly spend hours preparing each detail of a perfectly plated dish.  Meanwhile I’m looking for more one pot wonders and exhausting the internet resources for another dump and start instant pot meal.  I don’t have special dishes or delicacies – I’ve never made a turkey or a ham or lamb for that matter – but I can get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.  I feed my family as an act of service, not a hobby.  I always wonder who was in the kitchen in all of the meals in the New Testament, and what they were making – and if they loved it and plated each dish perfectly – or just tried to get dinner on the table to sustain and nourish their friends.

The gospel reading tonight takes place during a meal.  We call it the Last Supper.   In Matthew Mark and Luke, the Last Supper was the Passover dinner, lamb sacrificed and all, a perpetual ordinance commemorating what God had done in Eygpt, delivering the Israelites from slavery. With all the special references, ingredients, and important ritual of the meal that the Jewish people had held fast to all these years and still celebrate today.  In Matthew Mark and Luke, Jesus has already instructed his disciples to prepare the Passover dinner, which is kind of code for “sacrifice the lamb so we can eat it for dinner.”

But the Gospel of John tells the story a bit differently.  The Gospel of John’s timeline places this meal a bit earlier,  Before the festival of Passover.  It’s just another Thursday.  Just another meal with his disciples.  The women who provided for them made their Thursday night special with what they had on hand.  Or what was on sale at Aldi.  Always bread.  Always wine.  Probably beans.  Maybe a little meat, maybe not, as the Passover dinner was coming soon.

It is no coincidence that they meet around a table.  Breaking bread is a visible and tangible sign of love, in both the sense of eucharistic fellowship and the sort of fellowship that gathers family and friends together for dinner.  We eat together as we celebrate events, and we eat together when we are mourning.  We eat together when we are out on a date with someone new, or someone who we’ve been dating for the past 30 years.  We eat together as a family to share our life and our joys and our struggles around a breakfast table or a dinner table.    Jesus sat down to eat with all sorts of folks in the Gospels – the wrong sorts of folks according to religious leadership.

But this evening, Jesus interrupts the meal with an odd gesture.  And only John’s Gospel records this.  He assumes the position of a servant, kneels at their feet, washes them, and instructs them that they ought to do the same.  Serve each other, love each other.  Be willing to do the hard things for and with each other.  To assume position of servanthood, not places of glory.  Jesus reveals to his disciples an intimacy that mirrors his intimacy with God the Father.  A relationship of loving service.  And Peter is uncomfortable.  I like to think that he would have willingly washed his friends’ feet, but to have Jesus, his rabbi, wash his feet, that’s unthinkable.   Little do they know that is not the only unthinkable event that will occur this week.

Jesus’ love for his friends on a random Thursday dinner party is the embodiment of God’s love for the world.  The whole world.  A giving love.  A sacrificial love.  An unconditional love.    The kind of love that offers wholehearted forgiveness for our betrayal.   The kind of love that feeds our bellies and our spirits in a meal where Jesus is both host and bread of life.     The kind of love that transforms the worst of evils.  Transforming the efforts of evil, making swords into plowshares.  A cross into the tree of life.    This love triumphs over evil, not with power – but with vulnerability and intimacy.

The other gospels make sure to tie this meal to the Passover meal.  To the liberating work of God ongoing in the world.  But it is John who stresses that Jesus is God, and this sacrifice will be God’s sacrifice.  John’s work has been to tie Jesus to the lamb.  Jesus is the lamb of God – who takes away the sins of the world.  This is the lamb to be sacrificed.  This is the meal – the body – the blood – that will be broken and shed for us.  God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Tonight, Jesus feeds us.  Forgives us.  Serves us.  Transforms us with his love.  Shows us with his actions and his words that this is what the love of God looks like.  We are not spectators, but participants in this love.  Unwilling at times, undeserving, and misunderstanding, but we come to the table, nonetheless.   We break bread with each other – coming up to our lord’s table for our small mouthful.

We hear the story of Holy Week  and We participate in the journey to the cross, and this story becomes our story year after year.  We are the disciples – with all their faults and flaws.   Jesus is present with us; we have received forgiveness and grace and mercy.  We are drawn into the intimacy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and made children of God.  We are fed and nourished by God’s love, that transforms the ordinary into holy, and transforms swords into plowshares.  Transforms even our worst into part of the story of redemption.  Transforms even death into life.

And in the eating and the drinking we too are transformed, into the body of Christ in this world.  Sent out to love and to serve.   For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  You proclaim God’s love – with your love.

“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.”    Amen.


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