offered by Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Green
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
Now 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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus 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.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After 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? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
The New Commandment
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little 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.” 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.’
Today is Maundy Thursday. It falls a few days after the pomp and praises of Palm Sunday and the gravity of Good Friday… but what is it about?
Mandatum is the Latin word for “commandment.” It’s where the word Maundy comes from. On this day we remember Jesus saying to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
We’ve seen this scripture written in a pretty font and framed in homes. We’ve heard it said in weddings before couples say “I do.” And it’s what we, Christians, say we’re all about… but what does it really mean? And why does Jesus say it now?
Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows that he will be betrayed by a friend, denied by another, and arrested by Roman and religious authorities. He knows that he will experience pain and heartache, and that his time on earth is coming to an end.
But instead of punishing his betrayer, casting out his denier, or lashing out against religious authorities, Jesus chooses a different way. He chooses to wash the disciples’ feet in a basin and wipe them dry on a towel around his waist. He does this for all of the disciples, even Judas. Then he chooses to break bread, dip it in wine, and give it to the disciples – all of the disciples, even Peter. Then, Jesus tells them to love one another – all of the disciples and everyone else, even the religious authorities.
Loving one another is not a pretty commandment. It is not a shallow commandment. It is not a commandment that any of us should assume as being easy. Loving one another is hard. Loving one another isn’t just a nice thing we do for people that we like. Loving one another includes all people, even the ones we haven’t yet learned to understand or love. It can be difficult and simple, messy and beautiful, uncomfortable and fulfilling.
Today and everyday, Jesus is calling us to choose another way: to wash and forgive one another, to serve and care for one another, to feed and nourish one another. Today and everyday Jesus is calling us to love one another. Let’s choose to live out this commandment today. How? In this time of global pandemic, we know that we love one another by staying home. We love one another by reaching out by way of text, telephone, and email. We love one another as we find new ways to communicate using digital technology. We love one another when we do what is necessary for us to do:
Send that text.
Make that phone call.
Let go of that grudge.
Forgive that person.
Show more kindness.
Tell them you love them or that you miss them.
Stop taking one another for granted.
You sent your Son into the world,
And before his hour had come,
He washed his disciples’ feet.
You had given all things into his hands.
He had come from you, and was going to you,
And what did he do?
He knelt down on the floor,
And washed his friends’ feet.
He was their teacher and their Lord,
Yet he washed their feet.
Lord God, help us learn from his example;
Help us to do as he has done for us.
The world will know we are his disciples
If we love one another.
Strengthen our hearts and our wills for love
And for service.
Keep before our eyes the image of your Son,
Who became a Servant for our sake.
All glory be to him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever.