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.

John 13:1-17

            Feet are important.  An Illinois podiatrist, Dr. Paul Brezinski, says, “The health of your feet, despite their distance from your heart, can affect your overall health.”  Turns out we should not tip-toe around attention to feet – Jesus certainly didn’t.  Despite the fact that feet, especially in the first century, were perpetually dirty and stinky, Jesus took the posture of a servant and washed each and every gross foot – including Judas Iscariot’s.
            This act absolutely blew the minds of the disciples who could barely fathom that Jesus would do such a thing as wash feet.  What is more, Jesus went on to tell them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  I imagine the disciples’ jaws had to be picked up off the ground over that zinger from Jesus.
            Here’s the deal:  unhealthy Christians and churches do not pay attention to foot health; but healthy Christians and churches give intentional focus to serving in the lowest capacities to the lowliest in the Body of Christ and in society.  They even serve their enemies – the ones whom they know have it out for them.  Healthy disciples do such things because they have the distinguishing mark of their Lord pulsating through their lives:  love.  Love motivated Jesus to serve, and, as his followers, the same motivation exists to serve the church and the world.  Mother Teresa got it right when she once said, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”


            Loving Lord Jesus, you are the perfect model of service.  Help me to pay attention to the all the people in my life and all the responsibilities I have with the love you give me, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31-35

            Today is Maundy Thursday.  On this day the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his betrayal and arrest.  It is a day to particularly remember the key events of Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet; the beginning of what we observe as the Lord’s Supper; and, Jesus’ giving of a “new” command to love one another.
            Loving one another is not new in the sense that it did not exist before Jesus.  Indeed, the command to love is permeated throughout the Old Testament (see especially Leviticus 19:18).  Yet, when Christ gave the new command, it was distinctive in four ways:  Jesus is a new model of how to love, demonstrated through the servant-oriented meeting of needs regardless of who the person is; we now have a new motive for love in that Jesus Christ first loved me, so I can now love others as he has done (1 John 4:19-21); we now possess a new motivator, the Holy Spirit, who energizes us for the service of love; and, finally, we have been given a new mission in which the church exists not for itself, but to evangelize the entire world using the highest of spiritual tools, love.
            A true, genuine, and authentic follower of Jesus Christ will be deeply and profoundly characterized by love in all his/her words and actions.  We are called to put love where love is not.  The cross of Christ stands as the supreme sacrifice of love on our behalf.  We remember it this Maundy Thursday with humility and eternal gratitude.
            Holy God, your Son, the Lord Jesus, came as a servant not seeking to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many.  He came to wash away our sinful pride and feed us with the bread of life.  We praise you for inviting us to serve one another in love, to forgive one another as we have been forgiven, and to feast at his Table as members of one household of faith.  Amen.