A sermon for Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Math
John 13. 1–17, 31b–35
Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. LoveLove. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.
Love x 54.
The word love is used 54 times in John’s Gospel to tell what Jesus does or what Jesus says.
Not yet times 3.
Three times in John’s Gospel, Jesus has said, “Not yet! My hour isn’t here yet.”
But tonight, at a near half way point through John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Now! Now my hour has come!”
This hour lasts three days, and then another fifty after that.
Jesus’ hour starts with this final meal, followed by his death, and won’t end until he ascends to heaven, fifty days after his resurrection.
And you are here for the beginning of his hour.
In John’s version of Jesus’ last meal, this last supper takes place the day before Passover begins.
It’s a private meal for those closest to him, and no servant is present.
Though I always wonder if women and children were present too, but simply not counted.
The other three Gospels have this last meal as the Passover meal.
But for John, Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; so Jesus will be crucified, tomorrow, on Passover, at the very hour that the priests are sacrificing the Passover lamb in the temple.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.
Back to the meal.
Since there is no servant present, there is no one to wash feet as an act of hospitality at the beginning of the meal.
You can almost imagine the disciples casting their eyes down and looking away when someone says, “Who is going to wash the feet?”
Because it’s something no on one wanted to do. It was beneath them.
It’s one of those things we pay people to do because we don’t want to do it.
So it is beyond a surprise when Jesus jumps up and says, “I will!”
Do not miss how humble Jesus has to be to wash feet.
He has to hike his garments up to keep them from getting wet.
He has to grab a towel.
He has to get way low, on the ground, in an uncomfortable, awkward posture, that puts him in a most intimate place with his disciples–up close, and very personal.
He then proceeds to wash all twelve, yes twelve, disciples’ feet.
Jesus washes Judas’ feet, too.
When he is finished, Jesus asks, “Do you know what I have done?’
And the disciples are silent.
Of course they don’t.
Of course we don’t.
Jesus continues by saying he’s giving them a new commandment.
(Which is, by the way, why we call this day in Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, from the Latin word for commandment.)
Actually, Jesus isn’t giving them a new commandment.
Loving God and loving neighbor is at the heart of the Jewish faith, and is to be found throughout the Hebrew Scripture.
But what is new about Jesus’ kind of love, for Jesus to say that it is a new kind of love?
Jesus’ love is vulnerable and highly personal.
It’s the last thing we may want to do.
It’s the kind of love that we can only give if we’ve received it first.
If you go back five days earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus is at Lazarus, Martha, and Mary’s home in Bethany for a post-bringing back Lazarus from the dead meal.
We’re told that Martha serves, of course, meaning the meal,
and that Mary gets down on her knees, and pours costly perfume over Jesus’ feet to clean them, then uses her hair for a towel.
She receives nothing but criticism and misunderstanding for this act of kindness and service, except from Jesus, of course.
I wonder. Was Jesus remembering this act of love, this act of humble, uncomfortable, intimate, awkward love when he then shared that love with his disciples?
I wonder, was Jesus seeing how one act of service puts in motion another whole chain of acts of loving service?
I wonder. Since Jesus, who freely and lovingly washed Judas’ feet, who in verses left out of the reading of our Gospel tonight, Judas leaves in the midst of this meal to go betray Jesus, I wonder if Jesus is saying that this new commandment means that we love without judging?
Jesus loves with abandon, even loving and serving those who others would say don’t deserve to be loved.
On this last night before his crucifixion, within the words of our Gospel tonight, Jesus is at an ordinary meal with those he loves most dearly, including Judas, teaching them things that they will need to know to go on without him.
As he teaches his disciples, life is continuing to go on outside the upper room.
Everything in the world surrounding them is the same, while in the room, with Jesus, nothing will ever be the same again.
On this night, Jesus gives the disciples, and thus us, props.
In the accounts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, bread and wine.
In John’s account, a towel, a basin, water, a hiked up garment, and down on our knees.
Jesus says we need both. To love as Jesus loved.
Remember what he has said: Love one another as I have loved you.
Forty two times more in these final chapters of the Gospel of John, forty two, love will be at the center of what Jesus says or what Jesus does.
This last meal is not so much about bread and wine and washing feet.
It is about love.
Loving us, first the disciples are fed, with the bread and with the wine.
Loving us, then the disciples are served, with the water, the towel, and Jesus down on his knees.
Loving us, we are fed, with the bread and the wine.
Loving us, we serve, down on our knees no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing.
We must receive both. We must give both.
Jesus did.
Jesus’ feet were washed by Mary of Bethany, and then he washed his disciples’.
Jesus fed the disciples physically, within a time of feeding them spiritually.
In Jesus’ new commandment of loving others as he has loved us,
It’s only Jesus’ kind of new love when we receive it.
It’s only Jesus’ kind of new love when we give it away.
For when we don’t allow others to serve us, they cannot serve as they’ve been served.
Having been served, we are commanded to continue the ripple effect of service, passing on that service with which we’ve been served.
Tonight, the hour has begun. The clock is ticking.
Jesus loves as he has been loved. Will we love as he has loved us?
At least 54 times.

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