John 13:1-17, 31-35 – Maundy Thursday

Jesus Washes Peter’s 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)

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciple by Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)

We all need to receive love and to give love. Without love, there is little to live for. Apart from love, relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles. Indeed, with an absence of love the world ceases to spin on its axis.

Yet, where love is present all things are beautiful. Personal relations have meaning and joy. All seems right and just in the world.

Love, however, comes at a cost. Because we live in a broken world full of pride and hubris, greed, and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless systems and unjust actions. We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of 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 final evening 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.

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 lifestyle). 

For Jesus, his last night with the 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 one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. After demonstrating for them humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). 

This was an incredible act of love. 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. 

The Last Supper by Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he 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, the church throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into 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 proclaiming 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.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Love one another, insisted Jesus, by imitating his humble service. We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love. Although love was not 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, love is to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in both word and deed. 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 Maundy Thursday brings to us.

Following Jesus

Walking with Jesus

The disciple and evangelist Matthew, the former tax collector, purposefully arranged his Gospel of Jesus to emphasize what it means to truly follow Christ. Matthew knew a thing or two about discipleship and following Jesus, having walked away from a lucrative business because Jesus called him. However, the hardest thing for Matthew was likely not giving up the money, as it was daily facing people who knew his past and many who held it over his head – except Jesus. Only grace has the power to change our lives and make us willing to face anything, for good or for ill.

For Matthew, the first sermon of Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), was meant to move the massive crowd of people physically following Christ to spiritually, ethically, and with heartfelt devotion following Jesus as committed disciples embracing the true way of righteousness – mercy, purity, and peacemaking.

In chapters 8-10 of his Gospel, Matthew narrates amazing events of miracles and healing including: the blind receiving sight; the lame getting on their own two feet and walking; those with leprosy being cured; the deaf hearing; the dead raised to life; and, the good news of God’s benevolent reign preached to the poor. Jesus was not only inviting people to be disciples; he was developing disciples through the sheer force of mercy. This was no sign-up sheet Christianity. This was deliverance from physical and spiritual oppression to a life of walking in the gracious way of Christ, no matter what the cost.

This was beautiful and wonderful ministry. It was life-changing and earth-shattering. However, most of the crowd who followed Jesus around observing the divine interventions were unfazed. In my mind, I picture the crowd like a bunch of social media followers who troll through others stuff and offer little except criticism when they see something that they do not like or agree with.

Jesus had his own comparison. He asked the crowd: To what can I compare this generation? Christ was angling for his listeners to consider the current state of the people and the society. He answered his own question with a saying that the people were familiar with: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” (Matthew 11:17)

The saying Jesus quoted pertains to weddings and funerals. He was saying that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works up close and personal, are like people who have their backs against the wall during a celebration dance at weddings. They are also like people who show no grief and don’t cry at funerals.  In other words, they are dull. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they do not see him because they are expecting someone else.

Most of the people could not get over the fact that Jesus hung-out with people who were not like them and kept focusing his ministry on folks who need it the most. Jesus was giving a stinging rebuke – and they knew it. Jesus was essentially calling the unmoved crowd a bunch of bratty little kids who sit around waiting for their idea of Messiah to come along.

Bottom line: Jesus had no acceptance for them simply because they were not willing to accept him on his terms and in his way. So, Jesus then clearly communicated who is accepted with him: Those who need him. They are accepted because the Father has revealed Jesus and truth to the least and the lost. Little children were always overlooked and forgotten people in the ancient world – low on the totem pole of human hierarchy and viewed mostly as potential adults who would someday contribute to society.

Kids need to be cared for. And that is the key to why Jesus spoke of becoming like little children: kids need the care of others or they will not make it. They know it. The plan of God is to bless those who are poor in spirit, not those who think they “already know all that stuff” and have no need for a Messiah who only meets the needs of immigrants, people of color, the aged and the infirm. Those who know their need for a Savior come to Jesus asking for help and find the open arms of God. Those who only know their spiritual pedigree and how much others need them, are glad they are not like people beneath them, and ask for nothing – these are the people who will find themselves looking at God’s back.

The needy are accepted because they humble themselves and come to Jesus and exchange their yokes. Christ’s invitation goes out to all those for whom religion and church has become a grind, for whom trying to always be a good Christian is like carrying a heavy burden. We are invited to replace our heavy yoke with the yoke of Jesus.

Simon and Jesus by Nicholas Mynheer
Jesus and Simon by Nicholas Mynheer

A “yoke” was a rabbi’s set of rules based in his interpretation of the Law. The disciples of a rabbi would follow him around everywhere and continually listen to his view of how to live the Scripture in everyday life. There were rabbis whose yoke weighed people down with endless rules on every detail of life. Jesus would later say about such teachers:

“They tell you to do things, but they themselves don’t do them. They make strict rules and try to force people to obey them, but they are unwilling to help those who struggle under the weight of their rules. They do good things so that other people will see them.” (Matthew 23:3-5)

Jesus, contrary to other rabbis, taught the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount as his yoke, which was a form of living from the heart, and not just to put on a good show for others.

Jesus said “learn from me” because he is gentle and humble in heart. Jesus is not going to turn us away when we sincerely and humbly come to him; in fact, he invites us to come so we might bask in God’s acceptance:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NCV)

If faith has become all too familiar, if you have lost your sense of awe and wonder about God, if you desire something more than just keeping up with the Christian Jones’s and fulfilling a checklist of Christian duty, then there is an invitation for you to come to Jesus – offered by Christ himself. We get to walk with Jesus.

3374b-thetable

For Christians everywhere throughout the world for two millennia the Table is the place to come in remembrance, communion, and hope. We remember the once for all sacrifice of Christ which unburdened us of our heavy load of sin. We commune with this same Christ now in the present. We anticipate our future hope with confident expectation that Christ is coming again. The Table is an invitation for us to eat and drink of Christ. The words of Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend’s “Communion Hymn” capture Christ’s acceptance of us and our need to receive such grace:

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us – and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Torn for you – eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you – drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, – and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King.

Amen.

Galatians 3:23-29

            If you are new to this blog, or to the Revised Common Lectionary, or just need a reminder, here is a very small explanation of how it works.  The Lectionary is one way of reading through the Bible in a three year cycle (known as Years A, B, and C).  The daily readings of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all anticipate the Scripture texts for Sunday; and, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings all reflect back on the previous Sunday.  And each year is attentive to the major events of the life of Christ and of the church.
 
            So, today’s New Testament text looks forward to World Communion Sunday, a day in which we intentionally celebrate the truth that we as individuals and local congregations belong to a much bigger Body of Christ – Christians from different cultures and nations all share Jesus together, symbolized and remembered through our common eating from the Lord’s Table. 
 
            The Apostle Paul needed to give the Galatian churches some remedial teaching on the basic nature of God’s gospel of grace in Christ.  The Gentile believers had begun to buy-in to the notion that they needed to become Jews in order to really be Christians.  Paul would have nothing to do with it because it betrayed the nature of the gospel that in Christ all are one new society, and not old Israel.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
 
            The gospel of grace is the great equalizer.  In Christ, God has created a new society in which all come together by faith.  That means people do not need to become Jewish to become a Christian; it also means that no one needs to become an American or any other type of person in order to truly belong to Christ.  The gospel of grace means we are not to only be around people who are just like us, looking for others to conform to us.  It means we appreciate and embrace the wonderful variety of people of all races, classes, ethnicities, gender, and cultures without demanding they be just like us.  In Christ, we are all one new society, one gospel culture celebrating and enjoying Jesus.  It would be poignant for us all to remember this wonderful reality when we approach the Table this Sunday.
 

 

            Gracious God, you established the church as a new egalitarian society through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Help me to connect meaningfully with others very different from myself so that grace will be my only rule for life.  Amen.

The Lord’s Table

The Lord’s Table proclaims the gospel to us, and the good news of Jesus Christ is what we need to be molded and shaped into disciples.  Just as the simple routines of eating breakfast and getting ready in the morning shape our daily lives, so the ritual of the Lord’s Table is to set the tone for our lives by orienting us around healthy routines of learning to follow Jesus.  We need the Lord’s Table because our hearts are often thorny with cares and worries which leads to a weakening of faith.  A sermon is words; the Table is tangible.  Preaching may say the words “I love you!” but the Table seals those words and makes them real, like a kiss.
 
 
 
            The purpose of the Lord’s Table is to participate in the blessings of Christ by visually re-creating the story of Jesus.  There are three different terms for the Table in the New Testament, and each term is meant to convey a different aspect of the Table’s significance.  One of those terms is The Lord’s Supper.  The focus of The Lord’s Supper is remembrance, a memorial of Christ’s death that is deeply reflective and contemplative.  Paul said to the Corinthians:  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  Paul said this because at the Table whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
 
            A second term for the Lord’s Table is called The Eucharist.  Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving.”  The focus of seeing the Lord’s Table as The Eucharist means that we are celebrating our victory over sin, death, and hell through Christ’s death.  At the Last Supper, the Gospel writer Mark said that Jesus took bread, gave thanks (Eucharist), and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks (Eucharist) and offered it to them, and they all drank from it (Mark 14:22-23).  We might say that observing the Table as both The Lord’s Supper and The Eucharist means that we will engage in a sober celebration.
 
            The third term describing the Lord’s Table is the term “communion.”  Communion means to participate in Christ and with other Christians.  Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  This emphasizes that when we partake of the Lord’s Table, we ought to do so with unity and fellowship; we do not just participate as individuals, but together as the community of the redeemed.
 
            As we allow the Table to be a remembrance, a celebration, and participation with each other, we engage in a ritual that helps us to know Christ better and we are better able to realize his grace to us.
 
 
 
            One of the wonderful realities about communion is that believers all over the planet share in Christ together.  Communion and participation is important because we can easily be fragmented and not fellowship with one another, both in the local church, and the world-wide church.  Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians because they were divided among themselves.  He emphasized the work of Jesus on the cross as bringing reconciliation between God and people.  Christ’s work of reconciliation has restored a broken relationship between us and God, and also between one another.  The relations between the Corinthians were not good; they existed as a network of special interest groups, instead of being aware of each other and intentionally participating with each other.  They did not necessarily fight among each other, but simply ignored other people in the church.  Each group wanted their own way, and they had not yet learned how to talk to one another and work together in a unity and fellowship that reflects the gospel.
 
            One of the things we need to be aware of as we think of sharing in communion together is that we are not to approach the Table to be with people who are like us in the way we want them to be. We come because we have staked our souls on the fact that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the church is the best place, the only place, to be while we all struggle to figure out what that means. We come because we’d be hard pressed to say which is the bigger of the two scandals of God: that he loves me—or that he loves everyone else.  The Lord’s Table is the great leveler, where we all have equal footing and accept one another according to a common confession of Christ.
 
            So when we talk about the Lord’s Table as being communion, we are emphasizing that it is not just a remembrance, but a participation in the body and blood of Christ.  And since that is true, communion is participation with all Christians everywhere.  The Lord’s Table is not just to be an individual experience in isolation from others.  There is solidarity not only between the individual and God, but between all believers.
 
            Therefore, we are not alone.  Communion lets us know that God is with us, and that he has so closely identified with us that he took our place on the cross.  As a result, every believer in Jesus is linked to all the others so that, when one suffers or rejoices, all suffer or rejoice, whether it is an African pastor rejoicing over newly saved persons out of animism, or a suffering Syrian Christian trying to survive in a refugee camp.
 
            We must live up to what we profess.  Our participation in Christ results in participation and unity with each other.  Since we are God’s forgiven people, we are to work at living the Christian life together.  This unity is symbolized by partaking together of the same loaf of bread, and drinking from a common cup.
 
            On one Sunday, a group of missionaries and believers in Papua New Guinea were gathered to observe communion together.  After one young man sat down, one of the missionaries recognized that he seemed to be quite upset.  But, then, in a while, the young man seemed to be fine.  The missionary leaned over and whispered to him, “What was it that troubled you?”  The young man replied, “The man who just came in happens to be the man who killed and ate the body of my father.  And now he has come in to observe communion with us.  At first I didn’t think I could do that.  But it is all right now.  He is washed in the same precious blood as I am.”  And so together they had Communion.
 

 

            We have peace because of Jesus.  His death has brought reconciliation not only between us and God, but between each other.  As we approach the Lord’s Table, let us be aware not only of our personal relationship with God, but our relationships with one another in the local church, and our unity with the world-wide church.  May our lives be shaped and formed around the cross of Jesus Christ, as we remember, celebrate, and participate together.