On Maundy Thursday, Jesus teaches us what love looks like: like a Teacher washing his disciples’ feet. His command to love is no command at all – it is simply what those who have been so loved by Christ do. It is how the world will know us – not so much through words, although words are important. But most importantly, we who follow Jesus will be known in our loving. We can love like Jesus only because Jesus loved us to the end.
Maundy Thursday – April 2, 2015 – John 13:1-17, 31b-35
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Loved to the End” – Pastor Evan Davis
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Tonight, Jesus gives himself to us in love – in three ways. When we confessed our sins, when we brought whatever burdens our souls, Jesus forgave us personally, individually, to make our hearts whole again. He is about to give himself to us in tender, loving care through each other in the washing of feet. And in the Lord’s Supper, this meal, which like the Passover meal the Israelites ate in Egypt, brings us salvation, freedom, and passage from death to life, Christ literally gives himself away to us, in bread and wine. Jesus gives himself away. He does not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but empties himself, taking the form of a servant, giving himself away, to you and me.
And so we learn something at the core of God’s heart. God has no self-preservation instinct. God is not in the business of holding on to power, clutching it in clenched fists. No, God is in the business of emptying himself, of giving power, and love, and his own life, away. Every man in this story tonight, and the one we’ll hear tomorrow, is trying desperately to save himself (I say every man because only the women are brave and faithful enough to be like Jesus and stay by his side). Judas sells him out for money. Peter can’t handle what seems to be going on, he doesn’t want to keep a death vigil with his Lord, he doesn’t want his feet to be washed by him either, and Peter ends up denying that he ever met the guy. All the other disciples desert him and run away. Tomorrow, we’ll hear how the priests and elders deny their own religion while trying to look good in front of the Romans. Pilate does everything he can to obey his own Roman law but also appease the angry mob outside his headquarters. Everyone’s trying to keep his head off the chopping block…except Jesus.
Our Brethren brothers (sorry, redundant) and sisters (should they be called the ‘Sistren?’) understand what we’re about to do, when we wash each other’s feet, as almost a sacrament. The Love Feast. And oh, how wonderful that is. For us, it’s also a sacramental act, at least one night a year. Because this is a vital way we know God. Because as we wash each other’s feet, we come to know Jesus. Like the song we’ll sing in a moment, “where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.” As surely as in forgiveness and the Lord’s Supper, here we meet Jesus.
But it’s more than that. This is THE sign of what it means to follow Jesus. To BE the community of Jesus. To BE the Body of Christ, the ekklesia (called out people), the Church in the world. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Ten chapters earlier in this gospel of John, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Our own Bishop Mauney has taken that beloved verse and brought it down to our level. He asks, “what if we said, ‘for the Church so loved the neighborhood that …’ what if our whole mission in the world was to fill in that blank?” What would we do?
Ultimately, Jesus says, the world will not know us by what we say. Or teach. Or how often we go to worship. Our Lord tells us that the way the world will know us, and thereby know him, is by how we love one another. “One another” being first, those of us together in this community of Christ, and then everyone God puts in our path. We can remember another song, “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” Still another way, “live so that others who do not know Jesus but know you, will come to know Jesus because they know you.”
The Way of Jesus is to give ourselves away for the sake of this neighborhood, this community of Keezletown, McGaheysville, Massanutten, Mt Crawford, Bridgewater, Dayton, Port Republic, Grottoes, and Harrisonburg. (I think that’s where most of us live…did I miss one?) The Way of Jesus is to be known in our loving. To be known as the Church that SO loves this community, that we are willing to give ourselves away for it, by walking the Way of Jesus…Jesus, our Teacher and Lord who has got up in the middle of dinner to stoop down and wash the filth and muck off our nasty feet.
So after we wash each other’s feet, whose will we wash? How can we be known in our loving? Maybe as the Church that builds a new building just so this community will have a place for children to learn and be safe, or for people to recover from addiction, or for the poor to eat, or for new skills to be learned, or for families to comfort one another in mourning, or for birthdays and anniversaries to be celebrated, or maybe all those things? Maybe as the Church that will visit you in prison and at the hospital bed, the Church that will rally around whomever is in crisis, member or not? The Church that will not leave the elderly alone, but visits the homebound and brings joy to the nursing homes? The Church that stands up with other churches to say it is not ok for people to go hungry or be homeless here, in this community that Jesus so loves, and so we’re willing to stick our necks out to put our Faith in Action? By all this and more…the world will know we are disciples of Jesus.
And this Jesus…Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Some Christians have felt the call, and were made ready by the Spirit, to love God’s people to the end. Dietrich Bonhoeffer loved the German people and his Jewish sisters and brothers to the end. Oscar Romero loved the terrorized and murdered people of El Salvador to the end. Martin Luther King loved the soul of this nation to the end. I pray that none of us face that call. We are not Jesus. We are the ones who need our feet to be washed. We are the ones who need that forgiveness…who need the Body and Blood of our Lord, who is our Passover feast tonight. All this is for you, now. Because as we run away into the darkness, into what we think is safety, our Lord remains, waiting in the garden for them to come for him, loving us to the end. Amen.