April 14 – Maundy Thursday

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us. Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Christ Washes the Disciples’ Feet  —  Gaudin and Le Breton, Amiens Cathedral, Amiens, France

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The thread through tonight’s service is summed up in the name of this day, Maundy. A mandate, “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

The new commandment is preceded by Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, something that bewilders his disciples. Foot washing was a way of welcoming guests. A person’s feet would become dusty during the journey.  The host offered water so that guests could wash their feet—on their own.  Maybe one of the host’s servants would do the washing. When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he combines the roles.  He is both servant and host.  

Most of us gathering for worship around the world on this night probably know this story so well that we gloss over how radical his actions really are.  Here is a God who comes in human form and kneels at the feet of others. He holds his friend’s dirty, tired, callused feet in the palms of his hands and washes them clean. It’s as far from anything the world would expect in an almighty god. It’s as unexpected as God being laid in a manger, sharing meals with criminals, being friends with foreigners. 

Instead of reenacting the foot washing, tonight we are invited to imagine what might take the place of such an act today. It is a tough question, tougher than I anticipated when a colleague first presented it to me. We are far enough from first century Palestine and places and times like Regency England that servants or slaves are no more. Certainly, there are people who take what we might see as less-desirable jobs. But that is not an accurate comparison with tonight’s text. Jesus shares these moments with the people that have been following him, eating with him, and journeying with him. Though the love command is something we carry with us outside our faith community, it is truly about the faith community itself.

Another pastor wrote about the intimacies of Maundy Thursday and compared it to a work-around his congregation in Chicago discovered earlier in the pandemic. The older members of his parish had a long-standing practice of gathering monthly for lunch. It moved online early in the pandemic and the digital cubes were helpful, but something was missing. Intimacy through food was what they needed. When possible, they began cooking, portioning, and delivering a homemade meal to participating seniors and then sharing that lunch together online. And while not all the intimacy of the gathering was reclaimed, something about sharing the same food opened them up to one another again. The sharing of common smells, tastes, and textures cements community in unique ways. Shared meals even from a distance have power. The intimacy is undeniable.

Jesus knows his followers so well that his decision to include them all in these acts of holy intimacy is profound. Gathered in that place are those with strong faith in Jesus’ mission, though they know not yet what costs will come with following him. Judas is known, washed, and fed in all his fear and duplicity. Peter is known, fed, and loved despite his impending denials. All the rest will, in their own ways, flee in fear, leaving Jesus accompanied only by the women in his life and by his fellow condemned. But Jesus does not cancel this intimate evening to distance himself from those who will flee. Instead, he draws them that much closer to his soon-to-be-wounded side.

This is helpful context as we consider what it means to wash another’s feet today. Each of us is different and has different barriers. On the one hand I think that intimacy with others comes easier to some of us than others. And yet this evening is a reminder that all disciples are called to this work, to be open for moments of closeness and intimacy and acts of love.

I can only speak for myself that what most often has prevented me from acts of intimacy is the fear that I don’t have enough: enough energy, enough good answers, enough time, enough compassion. Teachers and mentors wiser than me, plus some experience, has taught me that just showing up is often more than enough. People long to be really and truly seen. We don’t have to have answers or special training to be present in another’s life.

For the last few years, I have been leading groups online through different spiritual practices. One of the favorite practices is titled, “Gazing at a beloved or friendly others.” What participants have shared with me is how much they appreciate the questions. While imagining in their minds eye a person they have recently encountered, they are asked to ponder what fears the person carries/ what unmet longings do they hold, what ancient wounds haunt them, what gifts or joys light them up and yearn to flourish more fully? 

The truth is, we all want someone to wonder those things about each of us. And we, gathered this night, believe that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, already knows all the answers for each one of us. But we who hear his voice, who follow him, who obey his command to love one another, then are called to be compassionately curious about others, both those in our community of faith and those beyond. What fears the person carries/ what unmet longings do they hold, what ancient wounds haunt them, what gifts or joys light them up and yearn to flourish more fully?

Jesus’ new commandment to love one another can only be lived with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to share in Christ’s vision of communities where vulnerability and intimacy are embraced, not for themselves but for real beloved community. God’s own love makes this possible. A favorite author refused to compose devotions for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, instead writing, “These days’ events are too immense, the love of the Triune God too far beyond my imagining, the meaning of it all unfathomable.” She is right. It’s more reasonable to imagine how we pass on that love to others, following the example Jesus sets on this evening full of intimacy.

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