John 13:1-17, 31-35 – Maundy Thursday

Ethiopian Jesus washing feet
Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet

It was before Passover, and Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and to return to the Father. He had always loved his followers in this world, and he loved them to the very end.

Even before the evening meal started, the devil had made Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, decide to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that he had come from God and would go back to God. He also knew that the Father had given him complete power. So, during the meal Jesus got up, removed his outer garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  He put some water into a large bowl. Then he began washing his disciples’ feet and drying them with the towel he was wearing.

But when he came to Simon Peter, that disciple asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You don’t really know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“You will never wash my feet!” Peter replied.

“If I don’t wash you,” Jesus told him, “you don’t really belong to me.”

Peter said, “Lord, don’t wash just my feet. Wash my hands and my head.”

Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. That is why he said, “except for one of you.”

After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet and had put his outer garment back on, he sat down again. Then he said:

Do you understand what I have done? You call me your teacher and Lord, and you should, because that is who I am. And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you. I tell you for certain that servants are not greater than their master, and messengers are not greater than the one who sent them. You know these things, and God will bless you, if you do them….

Now the Son of Man will be given glory, and he will bring glory to God. Then, after God is given glory because of him, God will bring glory to him, and God will do it very soon.

My children, I will be with you for a little while longer. Then you will look for me, but you won’t find me. I tell you just as I told the people, “You cannot go where I am going.” But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. (CEV)

Love.  We need it.  Without love, relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles. The world ceases to spin on its axis.  With love, however, all things are beautiful; personal relations have meaning and joy; and, all seems right and just in the world.

Yet, love comes with a cost.  Because we live in a broken world filled with pride and hubris, greed and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless and faceless systems doing unjust actions.  We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of such an existence.  It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through sludge so thick we can barely get anywhere.  We need saving.  We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ.  When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter; but Maundy Thursday?

On this day the church remembers the last evening that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion.  The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross.  Jesus was careful and deliberate to communicate exactly what was important to him: to love one another.

Ethiopian Jesus Last Supper
Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of the Last Supper

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples:

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving system).

For Jesus, the last night with his disciples was all about love, God’s love.  On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each and every one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas.  After demonstrating for them a totally humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be.

He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin.

Ethiopian Jesus
Ethiopian artist depiction of Jesus teaching

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet; he also lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted:

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV). 

Because of these words from Jesus, the church throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion, this supper so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into both our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine.  We are to not just know about Jesus – we are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaimed to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Love one another, insisted Jesus, through imitation of his humble service.  We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love.  Although love was by no means a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions:

  1. Jesus is the new model of love
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world, utilizing the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it

Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.  Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him.

In Christ we are to allow love to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in words and deeds.  A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ.  This is the reality that Maundy Thursday brings to us.

God of love, you have given us a new command to love each other.  Help us to show that love in our care of creation, to all nations and ethnic peoples, in our communities and neighborhoods, through the Church everywhere, and with the persons closet to us and their needs.  In all our thoughts, words, and actions may we be your servants and reflect your love; through our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

To continue our remembrance of Christ’s loving service, click As I Have Done For You written by Dan Schutte.

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