April 14, 2022 Maundy Thursday The text is John 3:1-17, 31b-35.
1 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 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.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If 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. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Maundy Thursday”; the evening worship service when we find ourselves as observers of the events of Jesus’ final gathering with his disciples. He washes their feet, asks them a question afterward, and gives them the new commandment to love one another, just as he has loved them. First things first; let’s get this whole “Maundy” reference out of the way. Maundy is an Old English word that was derived from Latin. It sounds a bit like “mandate”; hence it’s the word that St. John uses to describe Jesus’ giving of the new “commandment” to love one another.
And we read that the very first thing Jesus does this night is to get up from the table to kneel in front of his disciples and begin to wash their feet. In Jesus’ time the job of washing the feet of one’s guests fell to a servant; or in the case of a master/teacher relationship, such as Jesus had with his followers, the disciple would perform this duty on the lord. This was a sign of servitude, humility, and hospitality. Foot-washing of dinner guests was consigned to the subordinate members of society, for it was a humbling, humiliating job. Yet, Jesus knelt before his disciples and did just that; the teacher washed the feet of his students; the Son of God washed the feet of mere mortals.
And while this was the action that Jesus took, it wasn’t really about the washing of the feet; Jesus did this for the disciples, and it was meant to be the example he intended for them to follow. Jesus knelt before them and washed their feet to show them just how willing he was to be a servant to others. It’s nearly impossible to imagine, isn’t it? I mean we know it’s true because it’s recounted in Scripture for us, but it’s still difficult to picture God incarnate kneeling before a group of God’s sinful people, washing their feet. But so much of what Jesus teaches is in direct opposition to what the world accepts as correct, as appropriate, as normal. If Jesus wanted to give an example of humble servanthood, what better way to do so than to literally drop to his knees and cleanse the dirty feet of those he has called to be his followers?
And, when he finished, he asked his disciples, “do you know what I have done to you?” He explains that he used his foot washing to illustrate the reversal of accepted cultural roles and to emphasize his deep love for his followers.
This is followed up with Jesus’ institution of his “New Commandment”; he expects the disciples to show that they are passionately committed to the well-being of others, to show others the same love that he has shown for them; the same love that God has for creation. The Greek word for this type of divine love is “agape”; and this is Jesus’ mandate, which we commemorate this Maundy Thursday. “Do you know what I have done to you?”, Jesus asks the disciples, and as in all his teachings this question is meant also for us. And what Jesus has done is establish Christian community. This was his intention for the early disciples and remains so today. Jesus says to them, and to us, “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.” We are to be community, to be willing to humble ourselves in servanthood to others, to love our neighbors just as Jesus has shown his love for us.
In St. John’s Gospel this evening we read of the great discomfort that Peter felt as he recognized that Jesus loved him enough to humble himself to wash his feet. Do we feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that God’s Son shows this depth of love also for us? If that’s the case, then how much more overwhelmed should we be at the thought of the enormity of the love Christ shows us as we witness his crucifixion tomorrow evening? “Do you know what I have done for you?”, Jesus asked them when he had washed the disciples’ feet; do we acknowledge what he did for us on the cross? How far are we willing to go to be the loving community Jesus commands us to be?
There is no doubt that Emanuel is striving to be community, both within and outside our walls. Her people are providing care kits for our homeless neighbors, food donations for the hungry are ongoing, and the facility has been made available to many groups in need of a place to meet. The “Closet” remains the cornerstone of Emanuel’s community outreach endeavors. All these show the intent to obey Jesus’ mandate to love one another. But, here’s the thing; are we willing to really follow Jesus’ example? Jesus washed peoples’ feet, are we willing to stoop to do the same? Would we do this figuratively, by humbling ourselves in profound service to others?
More importantly, now that we know Jesus was willing to give his very life in servanthood to us, would we be willing to physically, literally wash the feet of another? Don’t forget, Jesus did not give us a “New Suggestion”, he established his “New Commandment”, “that you love one another, he commands. “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.”
Jesus washed the feet of others; we are expected to do this, and more, for those in need. How else can we show we are his disciples?
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, Jesus your Son stooped and died to serve us; guide us as we do our best to follow his commandment to be servants in the community he has established. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who commands us to love one another as he loved us; with that same “agape” love you have for your children. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.