Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018
Maundy Thursday, Year B: Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
CLICK HERE to listen to the recording.
In the name of God, who has given us a new commandment.
John throws us a curve ball so to speak. In this gospel account, John places this meal, this last supper, as happening before the Passover. This is unlike the other three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke who all describe this supper as happening on the night of the Passover seder.
Whichever is more accurate, we will most likely never know. Different people remember the same event differently.
And John doesn’t really tell us about the meal they shared. He doesn’t reference the institution of the Eucharist: there is no “take and eat” in this account.
What we do hear is a very intimate moment between this rabbi and his disciples. They had been through a lot together, this carpenter turned rabbi and all these ex‐fishermen. They had just experienced some of the most tumultuous and exciting days of Jesus’ ministry – the raising of Lazarus from the dead, attempts to discredit and destroy Jesus, and then the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
What John does tell us about what happened is that Jesus took the role of a servant and washed his disciples’ feet. He took off his outer cloak, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin and washed their feet. What John conveys to us is that Jesus loved his disciples so much that he once again discarded the social custom of the times.
Foot washing was a social custom in biblical times. Everyone traveled by foot, and feet would get dusty and dirty from walking along dirt roads in sandals or even barefoot. So, it was customary to greet guests upon arrival with foot washing.
It’s who did the washing of the feet that was so very different from what Jesus did in John’s account. Servants washed the feet of their masters and guests. But masters, teachers, rabbis, did not wash the feet of their servants.
We hear how Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. This is not how Peter understands the world. Jesus tried at first to reassure him but then tells Peter he needs to wash his feet if Peter wants to share in his love, and Peter of course, then wants to be washed from head to toe.
Then Jesus explains the significance of what he has done and gives his disciples a new commandment. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”.
In Jesus we see the perfection of unconditional love. Jesus never stopped loving his disciples. Jesus never stopped loving Judas, even to the end. Jesus loved Peter who would deny that he ever knew Jesus.
This commandment to love, this mandate, gives us our name for this day of Holy Week. In our Episcopal tradition, we call today, “Maundy Thursday”. The word “maundy” has come down through the old English word for mandate and before that, from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning to command or commission.
Jesus has commanded us to love. In our prayer book study, we’ve talked about when the prayer book rubrics say “shall”, “must or may”. Here Jesus is telling us in a very declarative way – “love one another”.
The love that Jesus shows through foot washing is a transformative love, a love that will stay imprinted and impressed upon the disciples. That image will stay with the disciples long after Jesus is gone.
The love that Jesus shows in the foot washing is unconditional love.
Most of us likely can’t ever offer the unconditional and complete love of Jesus, because we aren’t God, but we can certainly offer love and experience the love of other people.
We are certainly called to model our lives after Christ’s life, and we care called to this servant love, this agape love.
What does Jesus tell his disciples? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another”.
As we strive to love and serve one another in love, as we reenact the example Jesus gave us, we need to commit ourselves to the example Jesus gave us.
Jesus knows what the cross will bring. He will be beaten and stripped, treated as a common criminal. Yet what did Jesus do, knowing that his hour had come – he showed love to his disciples by serving them. He did not flee. He did not arm them with clubs or stones or clubs to fight those who were coming to arrest them. Instead, he armed them with love.
I believe this, in the end, is the perfect picture of God. Jesus was most like God when he demonstrated acts of love.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”.
Jesus’ example of love is perfect, and it is this example of love that we celebrate tonight. We will commemorate his perfect love in just a few minutes when we celebrate our Eucharistic meal together, the very re-enactment of the last supper that they shared.
This is the ultimate love that Jesus showed to us – laying down his life for ours. Just as he laid aside his garments to wash his disciples’ feet, so he laid aside his power and control, an example of love to us and to the world for all time. An example so amazing that we are still talking about it – we are still reenacting it.
We can only trust in the example of Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Maundy Thursday gives to us a reminder that everyone is welcome as disciples. Those who have betrayed friends and will do so again. Those will deny and will curse before the night is up; and those who will claim their identity by their belovedness in Christ Jesus. Maundy Thursday is the last of many nights that Jesus gave us hope that we all have a place among his disciples and that his love is everlasting and freely given to all.
Tonight, we begin. We remember how he loved us. We will be known as his disciples not by the war we wage or the violence or the discrimination we allow; instead, we must be known by the love and compassion we show. There is no other acceptable sign.
Come now and celebrate the love Christ has shown us, and let us leave this place determined that we will love one another . Amen.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.