This sermon was delivered on Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018. Kicking off the triduum with a sermon on finality. Seems fitting.
–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian
13 Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.
2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. 18 I’m not speaking about all of you. I know those whom I’ve chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, The one who eats my bread has turned against me.[a]
19 “I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am. 20 I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”
22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about. 23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side.24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about.25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It’s the one to whom I will give this piece of bread once I have dipped into the bowl.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. 27 After Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 No one sitting at the table understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Some thought that, since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus told him, “Go, buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So when Judas took the bread, he left immediately. And it was night.
31 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One[b] has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One[c] in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
There’s something very powerful about he Last Supper. Particularly the part about it being “the Last.”
There’s finality to it. This is the ending of a how things were, a preamble to the passion to come. Which makes Jesus’s mandate–where we get the word Maundy from, a corruption of the Latin word Mandatum–all the more powerful.
His final mandate for us was to love one another, like He loved us. A simple request, but a hard one. After all, how much did Jesus really love us? I ask this in all honesty. The man loved everyone he met. He loved the lepers. He loved women with spotted history. He loved tax collectors. He loved a rich man who could not give up his possessions. He even loved the Pharisees and priests, his enemies, enough to hold them accountable for their hypocrisy. He loved so deeply that he would undergo betrayal, trials, and ultimately, death.
This dinner was Jesus’s chance to tell them what he wanted them to learn, and how to live, one last time.
That’s difficult to appreciate, I think. People don’t like endings, because endings mean change. We resist endings because I think we don’t know how to process the change well. It happens in all stripes of life. We cling to a job we have because it’s what we know, so if a new opportunity comes, we struggle with accepting it. A new person comes into our life, and growing pains occur fitting them into our routines. Someone moves away, and a hole appears in your heart where they used to be.
That makes this Last Supper all that much more important. There’s a reason we continue to practice Communion, more than just because Jesus said to “Do This.” There’s real, mysterious power in the act of sharing the bread and the wine.
The truth of this night is that, when we partake of the bread and the wine, Jesus is truly, really here among us.
It’s impossible to explain of course. We can’t see him, obviously. But we do feel him. It’s why the song “Surely the Presence” is so powerful for me. God’s glory is fully, really present with us, and it’s at its peak when we share in communion.
John’s version of the Last Supper is especially poignant, given how different it is from our imagining.
John dwells on irregular events. He puts a lot of emphasis on the foot-washing, and how that was emblematic of Jesus’s love. In fact, Jesus’s love was given it’s greatest demonstration in life by wearing a slave’s towel and washing his students’ feet. He took on that role to show them the greatest method of showing love is service.
His disciples objected. This was humiliating for Jesus! He was shaming himself, and in a shame/honor based culture, this was almost painful for them to watch. But he wanted to make a statement: that culture is wrong. Don’t think about what other people think of you. Don’t let other people control you. Do what is right, what is loving, what is caring. Do the right thing when everyone stands against you.
There’s a lot of mockery out there about people who care. People call them “bleeding hearts,” as if that’s a bad thing. But Jesus’s heart bled for us all. He didn’t care if people were ashamed, or thought his behavior was disgusting. He didn’t care that the whole world was against him, because he was willing to bleed for them. Die for them. Be a slave to them. Serve them, despite their protest. He was doing what’s right. He was doing the loving thing. And that is what we ought to do.
Don’t be ashamed by what the world thinks. Don’t let anyone dictate your life.
Allow the presence of Jesus here, now, influence you. He’s the one you ought to listen to. And he tells you to love as he loved us. So put on a towel, so to speak. Listen to the cries of those in need. Show them love. Be willing to be shamed and humiliated for the work of Jesus. Love, without restrictions. Love, and remember you are loved. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.