Lectionary Passages: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35
Let us pray:
O Lord, give us ears to hear and hearts to understand as we come together to hear your word. May You bless my words and speak through them. May you bless each of us and enter into our hearts this night.
We just read the story of the Last Supper, or, we read John’s account of it. He’s the only one who writes about this familiar moment where Jesus takes a towel and bends down and washes His disciples’ feet.
In many ways this is the epitome of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knows that His time on earth is ending. He knows that the time of His crucifixion is drawing near. And so He takes this opportunity to give His disciples one final lesson, one that He acts out with water and dirty feet before giving it words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” (verse 34).
“Love one another.” It sounds beautiful. It’s the kind of phrase that preachers preach about, and artists illustrate so that we can frame it and put it on our walls. It’s a verse that makes me want to jump into doing it.
But what does that mean, to love one another? I mean, what does it truly mean? It’s something we talk about so much, but I’m not sure we always know what it means, what true love is.
But Jesus sets up this act of washing as love. This last dinner that He and His disciples are celebrating together is setting up Jesus’ ultimate act of love. Love is in the air. And so, in no particular order, here is what John’s account of the Last Supper tells us that love is:
Love is uncomfortable. Right? Jesus, after a long journey, knelt down on the floor in front of each of His disciples and washed their feet. And this wasn’t like modern foot washing, where you spend a few seconds with your feet wet and the water comes away clean, for these men were wearing sandals and had been walking through mud and animal poop and whatever else was on the road. This was dirty, smelly, uncomfortable work.
Love is vulnerable, in both directions: it takes a certain amount of self-honesty and vulnerability before others to be the one who kneels down and washes others’ feet, to be the one who is willing to show how very much they love someone and how much they’re willing to do for them. What if they don’t accept your love? What if you just look or feel foolish? What if it backfires in some utterly unexpected way? And it takes vulnerability to be the one who accepts love, who shows another person your mud- and poop-encrusted places. It takes vulnerability to admit all the ways and all the places you need someone else: the places you’re hurting, the places you’re not enough, the places where you’re drowning.
And love is “to the end”. Jesus comes to this dinner, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (verse 1). Jesus loved us to the end. He’s approaching the end of His time on earth, the point where He as God will give everything to love us, where His commitment will be so strong that He will die for us. In other ways it wasn’t the end, for Easter is still to come, after all; we’re still approaching the end, for God is still working in the world, and we are still finding that God does, in fact, love us to the very end.
As we live out this last commandment, we find that our love is fractured and imperfect; our love is not always to the end. We’ve all failed to love as we should. In some ways I strongly dislike preaching about love, because I don’t practice what I preach; I can think of a thousand ways that I’ve failed to love as well as I could. I’ve failed to love.
But God’s love never fails. God’s love continues to the end. That’s why we’re gathered here together tonight, for God’s love covers our own fractured, imperfect love, giving us the strength and the forgiveness to do as Jesus told us: to love one another as God loved us.