Let us pray: Bless this space, O God. Bless this meal you have invited us to; bless your words and mine. Speak to us as we enter these three days before Easter, as we remember again Your life and death. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit we pray, Amen.
A New Commandment
I can’t help picturing this last meal of Jesus and His disciples as something quiet and serious, probably in a dimly lit formal room, complete with candles and crystal wine glasses.
Of course that’s not what it was like at all. Jesus was the only one who knew that this was a special dinner–for everyone else, it’s just another dinner, probably exactly like hundreds of others they’ve shared as they traveled across the land of Israel. The disciples are talking amongst themselves, or maybe arguing, laughing, ignoring each other, kicking each other under the table. Only Jesus knows that this is their last meal together–that soon He will die. Judas suspects, of course; he is preparing to betray Jesus. He knows that his actions will change things, but he has no idea what that will look like.
Everything is normal–until Jesus got up from the table. He takes off his outer robe, ties a towel where He can reach it, and fills a basin with water. He goes to each of His disciples and washes their feet.
Then they know something is different. This is not normal. Jesus is doing the work of a servant, dirty, intimate, uncomfortable work. He is washing their feet, after they have walked across all of Israel. No one says everything; everyone lets Him wash their feet, perhaps because He’s their teacher and their master, perhaps because they don’t know what to say–perhaps because their feet are really dirty–until Peter, of course, who refuses. “This isn’t right! You’re our teacher–this isn’t something you should be doing for us, for anyone!”
“This is exactly what I should be doing,” Jesus replies. “You need this to have a part in what I am doing. I am your teacher, your master,” and He’s speaking to all of them now, not just Peter, “and here I am, serving you. Go and do likewise. Serve. Love one another.”
Jesus knows that Judas is planning to betray Him. He knows that Peter is going to deny having ever known Him; He knows that His disciples will fall asleep in the garden while Jesus prays, that they will flee His presence while He is executed. And yet He washes the feet of every single one of them. He eats this last meal with all of them. He says nothing of betrayal until after the meal, after He has washed their feet.
That feels impossible. I mean, we as a culture can barely stand to have Thanksgiving dinner with people who voted the opposite of how we did, let alone serve each other. It feels like enough of a triumph to avoid the topics of politics and religion through the entire Thanksgiving meal.
It’s quite as uncomfortable as foot-washing, this indiscriminate love of Jesus. We all have people we think don’t belong in church, don’t deserve God’s love because of what they’ve done or left undone, who we wish would just leave and stop making church harder. But Jesus is uninterested. He invites all to the meal, this feast that was prepared for Him and His disciples, this feast that we take part in tonight. This holy communion, offered to all through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and ascension.
And Jesus invites us to join in this indiscriminate love, this service to all, this food and fellowship offered to all. We are told to love and serve, as Jesus did. We are told to wash feet–not necessarily literally, but to ask ourselves: what needs to be done? how can I serve the people around me? what does no one else want to do? We are told to love one another.
And, when we look at the world and see all of its suffering, when we see churches and mosques burning, when we see bombs falling, when we see natural disasters striking again, when we see immeasurable grief, when we feel too small to do anything, to make any difference at all–I would invite you to look to Jesus, Jesus who knew it was His time to die, who knew what was coming, and so “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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.” That is, Jesus knew that God was in control. He knew that this is God’s world and these were God’s people, and only once He knows that does He get up from the table, lay aside His fancy outer robe and take a towel, and wash His disciples’ feet. Jesus is able to love His disciples well because He knows that God is God.
And just so with us. Only after we have been baptized and cleansed, after we have known Christ’s love for us and God’s rule over the world can we love others well. Only then can we draw from God’s well of love to love all, to love those who are annoying and deceitful and greedy and disloyal and selfish. God was the first to love us, after all. God was the first to love each of us. Let us draw from that love to love one another.