Reverend Rebecca Newland
Maundy Thursday—17 April 2014
Exodus 12.1-14; John 13.1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26
The story of the crucifixion, the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, reveals to us something deeply disturbing and confronting about ourselves. It reveals our humanity with all its weakness and sin. Jesus' whole life was a revelation and in Holy Week we reflect on the most fundamental elements of that revelation.
Tonight we hear the story of the Passover meal, the traditional meal the Jewish people remember each year, a meal that Jesus all his life would have celebrated with his family and friends. This meal celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, the meal where a lamb is killed and eaten. This is the meal that Jesus ate with his friends the night before he died. There are powerful messages here tonight about God's love and faithfulness and about the integrity of Jesus, his Son. In Jesus you have a person who was the epitome of integrity. The simple definition of integrity is doing what you say you are going to do—Jesus practiced what he preached. He spoke about love and service and he touched the unclean and washed his friends' feet.
Of course foot washing isn't about foot washing. It's about serving others as personal sacrifice, humbling ourselves when we don't have to—because we don't have to. And it's not about serving when we don't want to. It is about love, the love Jesus taught and lived. Jesus famously said those words in verse 34: "And now I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you." On this night, we are given an example of, and have the opportunity to discover anew, what Jesus love is like.
Loving as Jesus loves means loving even when it hurts
Although we know this story very well, it is still very surprising whose feet Jesus washed. It would seem reasonable to wash the feet of the 'good' disciples: the ones who were more committed and stable perhaps, those who always followed through and could be relied upon. But Jesus washed the feet of people who would cause him great harm and hurt.
Love sometimes costs us greatly. To love sometimes means to experience suffering and hurt. Some of you here know exactly what I'm talking about. And yet, Jesus washed the feet of betrayers and deniers. There is no one excluded from his loving service. There is nothing cozy or romantic about this scene. It is about love betrayed, not just portrayed. Love refused, not just love expressed.
Loving as Jesus loves means loving even when rejected.
Chapter 13 of John begins with Jesus washing his disciples' feet. It then includes that terrible, bone-chilling moment when Jesus indicates who will betray him even as he serves him. Jesus was troubled in spirit and said, "Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me." We didn't hear that part of the story read, but two things stand out. The disciples have no idea what he is talking about. They are blind and ignorant to the appalling truth.
The other amazing thing is that Jesus washed Judas' feet anyway. This is one of the most profound things Jesus ever did. He washed the one who would betray him, stab him in the back for a few pieces of silver.
It is to Judas, too, that Jesus also gives the piece of dipped bread. The giving of the dipped bread designated special honor, like a toast; it was the mark of courtesy and esteem. Jesus showed great love to Judas. The washing of feel displayed a degree of sacrificial love and service not seen before the Cross. Now, the giving of the dipped bread to Judas showed the height of love for enemies, previous to the Cross.
Loving as Jesus loves mean loving even when misunderstood.
All the disciples misunderstood Jesus in some way or another. Peter particularly seems to embody misunderstanding all through this narrative. It deeply hurts when people question your motives or misread your actions. Yet Jesus showed that love serves and loves sacrifices, even when it is not understood—even when it is not received—even when rejected.
You know the story from here—how Judas goes out to lead the religious authorities and soldiers to Jesus, how Jesus goes with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays to God, how the disciples cannot even stay awake with him, how Judas comes and with the kiss of friendship betrays him to the those who sought his death. By the time this night is over Jesus would have been captured and interrogated and on his way to the cross.
So tonight, as a symbol of Jesus' love, I wash your feet—or your hands. As a symbol of Jesus' love, we break bread together and share in his communion. As a symbol of the darkness and pain of this night, we strip bare the sanctuary and remind ourselves that loving one another as Jesus loved us means loving even when we are betrayed, rejected, and misunderstood. Only in this way does God's Kingdom come.