Love One Another: Maundy Thursday

Love One Another: Maundy Thursday

Year C, Maundy Thursday: April 14, 2022
Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Year C: Exodus 12:1-14a; Psalm 78:14-20; 11 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

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It has been a busy week. Not only have we finally made it to Jerusalem with Jesus, but we have made it to our beloved churches for Holy Week for the first time since 2019, and not a moment too soon.

Earlier this week, we heard “Hosanna in the highest!” and Jesus being called the “Son of David.” At the same time, Pontius Pilate and the army were showing the might of Rome as they entered the city from the main gate.

When we first got to Jerusalem earlier in the week, a crowd of people met Jesus singing, “Hosanna in the highest!” and calling him the “Son of David.” Conversely, Pontius Pilate and the army were showing the might of Rome as they entered the city from the main gate. It’s a time fraught with tension.

What does Jesus do? He goes about his usual teaching, healing, and preaching – no matter how many times he needed to be “careful” in the eyes of others, he was determined to bring the love of God to those assembled. What could go wrong when you preach that God loves everyone, calling out religious leaders, turning social norms on their heads, and challenging the authority of Rome? We know the answer to that, don’t we?

But, here in the Gospel, we heard tonight, Jesus is with his twelve disciples at the table, sharing the Passover meal. Then, in the middle of the meal, Jesus takes up the servant’s towel and basin and starts to wash the disciples’ feet.

Even today, the foot-washing ritual evokes strong feelings in many. It makes some people very uncomfortable. Perhaps more than any other ritual, the foot-washing ritual evokes strong emotions in many. Rest assured, this discomfort is not only a contemporary phenomenon: you hear the distress of at least one of the disciples in tonight’s Gospel reading.

But the reasons for the discomfort are somewhat different.

While the disciples had eaten Passover with Jesus before, this was different.

Simon Peter says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”[1]

In Jesus’ time, foot washing was an act of hospitality in dusty Palestine, where everyone wore sandals. Unlike today when some of us have made sure to go out and get our pedicures in advance of Maundy Thursday, the disciples’ feet would have been caked in dirt. You’d enter someone’s home, be greeted with a bow, maybe a kiss, and then have a lowly servant bring water to wash your feet. In the Gospel, what Peter and the others are uncomfortable with isn’t the gesture of foot-washing—that was standard practice – but who was washing their feet.

Simon Peter didn’t want Jesus washing his feet. He was the teacher—the rabbi. Jesus had taught him so much. But Jesus tells him, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Simon Peter isn’t worried about later. He was concerned about the there and now—none of this made sense.

None of it seems to make sense.

But it does make sense.

All the preaching, teaching, feeding – it’s about love. It’s all about love. It’s about how we love God, our neighbors, and ourselves. This is what Jesus’ entire ministry and life had been about. His washing of the disciples’ feet and outrageous behavior all along were in part to show the disciples and us what love looks like.

On this night, the night before he died, Jesus reminds us again that our commission, our call, our command is to be a people of love. Too often, we as the Church can get caught up in being the Church, worrying about our budget, our grounds, and our average Sunday attendance that we lose sight of Jesus’ command to love one another.

Loving one another is perhaps the most difficult of all the commandments. Singer and songwriter Tina Turner famously asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” For we who would follow Jesus, the answer is simple: everything! If we as the Church are to be relevant or meaningful in our world, we must rediscover that hope-filled love that enflamed Jesus’ first followers and inspired a movement that changed the world.

Our challenge is to be a people of love, live the words we pray, and sing a faith that loves. And perhaps we can embody the words of Peter Scholtes, knowing that together,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride,

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

The Maundy Thursday message of love is a message that all Christians need to hear and live. First, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Although most of us can’t offer the unconditional and complete love of Jesus Christ because we aren’t God, we can certainly offer love and experience other people’s love.

It is well, particularly this year, for us to remember that the power of Jesus Christ was overcoming death in great love for the world. His power was and is rooted in the commandment he gave to his disciples at the Last Supper, the commandment that we hear in tonight’s liturgy:

Love one another as I have loved you. Peace is my last gift to you, the peace I now leave with you; peace the world cannot give, I give to you.

That peace was not rooted in armies, military might, or unholy alliances between political and religious authorities. The Church belongs to Christ and Christ. Therefore, tonight, we pray that the Christ who will be crucified on the cross on Good Friday, and the Christ who will rise from the dead on Easter, will bring an end to war and violence and that he will continue to be a source of hope for the people of Ukraine and all people throughout the world who suffer from violence and oppression.

One of my greatest joys is to walk this path with you and our Lord, who is always with us. When we couldn’t show up in person for Holy Week and Easter the past two years, who were we as people? We were and are Christians. We try to live as God lives in us – in faith, abundance, and generosity. Sometimes we succeed; most often, we fail spectacularly.

We are called to model our lives after Christ’s life, and we are called to servant love.

As we strive to love and serve one another in love, as we reenact the example Jesus gave us, we need to recommit ourselves to the love of Jesus Christ.

Holy Week and Easter are full of stories of love that were rejected, buried, and then resurrected.

Between this year and next year, let’s not forget the mandate of Maundy Thursday. Love one another. It’s so simple and yet so hard.

Tonight, as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we choose Christ’s love for us. Let us always feast in this love and on these sacraments!

[1] John 13:6, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

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