Maundy Thursday 2018: He Loved Them to the End

Maundy Thursday 2018: He Loved Them to the End                                   

When I was in college, I worked at a summer camp as a counselor. We had campers for two weeks at a time and at the end of every session, we had the hard task of saying goodbye. It was never easy because we had spent every minute of our days with each other and grown quite fond of one another. On the last night of each session, we would gather for a shared meal and then form a circle where we would play Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends. If you are not a child of the Michael W. Smith era, the song goes like this:

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord's the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
'Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long
To live as friends

The song would end and we would all be in tears. This gesture signified what our words couldn’t say. What we were trying to do was honor our time together, and give ourselves something to carry away from the experience that would remind us of one another. I do not hear that song without thinking about my Camp Skyline sisters.

We come to this night in our faith journey and see that Jesus and his disciples are doing something very similar. Our reading from John’s gospel tells us that Christ knew His time on earth and with the disciples was coming to an end. Here in this moment, Jesus establishes ways for His disciples and for us to remember Him and honor Him.

The disciples are gathered for the yearly Passover feast. For them, finding an upper room to dine in was not anything out of the ordinary. Jesus has been saying some things that were a bit perplexing over the last few days, but for all intents and purposes in the disciples’ minds this night was pretty standard. However, Jesus knows this will be their last time together and he does a few things that leave the disciples scratching their heads and wondering what he is up to.
We come to this night with a bit of an advantage because we know what’s coming. So, we can answer clearly and know that he is up to love. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus having loved those in the world, loved them to the very end. We see that love lived out throughout His ministry on earth and we continue to see it through his actions on this last night with His people. There’s a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come in Jesus’ actions. We get the sense that every moment, every decision will be about sacrificial love.

On this night, we see the love of Jesus most clearly through service. Jesus assumes the role that a servant would normally perform at the meal. Throughout the reading, you don’t get the sense that what He is doing is beneath Him. His actions are intentional. The Scriptures create a “real-time” experience for us as Jesus gets up in the middle of the meal (Not normal) to remove His outer garments, ties a towel around His waist, and begins to wash each of His disciples’ feet.

This act of washing feet is a customary act of hospitality, but Jesus takes it beyond its traditional place. As we read it, it feels as though there is more to it. What Jesus is doing is not just an act of service, but has the semblance of a parent loving their child with gentleness and care. The usual, practical foot washing at the meal, now turns to something more relational and spiritual.

My husband and I are foster parents. As part of that process, we took classes with the state of GA to prepare. In those classes, we learned about parenting moments. Parenting moments are those times when we serve our children and care for them. They are times when we connect with our children through acts of service, i.e. homework helper, car seat clicker, boo-boo kisser, picture-taker or heart-mender.

In these moments, the parent still carries authority with their child but also serves the child. In this moment, we see Jesus caring for His children, and it only gives Him more authority with His disciples.  This act of service is full of inner authority and the quiet authority that comes with being a servant. Through Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, he is not only serving them as an act of love but he is pointing us to His true identity and purpose. It’s the truth we find in Philippians 2. We’ve read this passage in a number of places throughout Holy Week, but it’s a truth so central to who Jesus is, that it bears repeating.

Philippians 2: 5-7 –
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[
b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Jesus serves His disciples and at the same time demonstrates the type of Kingdom he has come to establish. One built on service and love.

Jesus shares in a parenting moment with His disciples, but He also creates a teachable moment with them. As a parent, or a friend, he knows this is an opportunity for growth and learning. We see this in two ways: through His interaction with Peter and His instructions after the foot washing.

Let’s look at Peter. Peter is so thrown by this scenario that he refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. My hunch is that many of us would have responded the same way.  Allowing others to serve us makes many of us very uncomfortable. Allowing the Lord of our lives to serve us – well, that would be unthinkable. Jesus’ reply to Peter pierces the core of our souls – “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” In  other words, You have to let me be Your Savior. You have to let me in. And to do that you have to drop any preconceived notions you have about me and completely surrender to who I am.

We see Peter’s all or nothing personality in this scene – well then wash all of me – goes from one extreme to the other. If we are honest, Peter is a glaring picture of ourselves because we want so desperately to get it right. When we operate on our own understanding, we will constantly swing one way or the other with no sense of consistency or stability. Until we deny ourselves and completely surrender, we won’t ever get it right.

The commentary I read in preparing for this message puts it this way: “Jesus asks nothing of His disciples other than that they place themselves completely in His hands. He asks that they enter into relationship with Him on His terms, that they allow their relationship with Him to be defined by God’s love and God’s love alone. The foot washing removes the possibility of distance between Jesus and His followers, and brings them face-to-face with the love of God for them.”

Here, in this moment, they are encountering the deepest and most intimate love they have ever known. Jesus pours nothing but sacrificial love and servant leadership into them on this last night. He wants them to know they are His beloved.

Jesus is also showing them and us how to love each other. It’s fair to say that Jesus expects us to do just as He has done. Service is essential to our relationship with God and our faith development. It’s essential to our relationship with each other.

Jesus draws us to a place of mutual service to one another and a mutual relationship of affirmation and love. One that doesn’t keep score. One that does not have a Savior or superiority complex. He is inviting us into a love that has no limits or boundaries, a love that opens us up to a whole new concept of the possibility of community.

I would be remiss if I made this a kumbaya moment. It’s important to recognize that this is a tense room that Jesus is in. We see Him address the elephant in the room – “not all of you are clean”. In the face of betrayal, Jesus proceeds with this act of love and washes the feet of his betrayer anyway. Judas is still beloved by Jesus despite what Jesus knows lies ahead.

Let that sink in for a moment. Judas is still beloved by Jesus despite what Jesus knows lies ahead. This call to serve and to love one another isn’t easy. This kind of love is hard and challenging which is exactly why we have to allow Jesus to love us in the ways He desires to care for and serve us.

Jesus provides a way for them to stay connected to their shared ministry together, to stay connected to Him and thus to stay connected to one another. It’s simple and yet so very challenging. Serve and love one another.

He also establishes a new commandment. This is not something that Jesus goes around doing on a regular basis, so we need to pay attention.

“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.” John 13: 34-35

In this moment, Christ displays for us God’s love reaching down into each of our lives and that His love is for everyone. He teaches us that service is how we share in the life of Christ. He instructs us that our love for each other shows the world God’s love for them. He reinforces that the best way to engage the world is to love one another well. And then love the world well.

The Scriptures tell us He loved them to the end. He is still loving us to the end. On the same night that Jesus demonstrated His love for the disciples by way of washing their feet, he was also giving them a way to remember Him.

So, tonight we remember. We remember Jesus’ love for us. We remember His new commandment to love one another. We remember that His love is made known through service.