Maudy Thursday Reflections

Maundy Thursday – Circuit Worship, 9th April 2020

 

Reading – John 13: 1-17, 31b -35

1 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.  2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper  3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,  4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  5 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.  6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"  7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."  8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."  9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"  10 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."  11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."  12 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?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord-- and you are right, for that is what I am.  14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 

31 …, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  33 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.'  34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

 

One of the challenges of reading familiar passages from the Bible is that of trying not to “switch off”.  Especially when we have read or heard a gospel story many times before, the temptation is not to read or listen carefully.  We say to ourselves, “Oh yes, the story of the ‘Last Supper’.  I know that story.  It’s when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. It is when he shared a meal with his friends and (as we understand it) asked us to remember him by sharing bread and wine; the beginning of what we call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion.”

And if I want to be a clever so-and-so as a preacher, I might slip in that this was the night on which Jesus gave his followers a new commandment, a new mandate, the Latin word ‘mandatum’, from which we get the word “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday.

Jesus said,

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)

More of that later.

 

But before we get to any of that, John adds in a few details that may pass us by if we’re not careful.

In verse 1:

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. 

And in verses 3-4:

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.

It is in the light of his knowledge of his relationship with his Father God that Jesus takes a towel and a bowl of water and humbles himself by washing the feet of his friends.

Then in verses 31-32, Jesus says,

"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.”

Now, this is a reminder of what Jesus said in John 12, verses 27-28:

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

And a few verses further on, in John 12, Jesus says,

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.   And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 

And the gospel writer adds:

He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.           (John 12: 31-33)

 

All of this reminds me of something that we often overlook when we get to Holy Week.  As we tell the story of the final few days before the death of Jesus on the cross, we focus on some very ugly details: the conspiracies against him, the betrayal of Judas, the desertion of the other disciples, the politic-ing by Pilate, the torture and cruelty inflicted on Jesus. 

And yet.

And yet, all four gospels make it clear that the journey to Jerusalem, the journey to suffering and death, is one which Jesus set out upon freely. And for the writer of John’s gospel, it is clear that the worst moment of all – the point at which Jesus is agonizingly nailed to a cross – that is when God is seen most clearly in glory.

 

Some of you are already suffering heartbreaking loss.  Others will know people who are experiencing terrible sadness, and you are struggling to know how best to help.  Some are wrestling in prayer that gives us a sense of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Yet we need to know this: that even when we feel that God has forsaken us – even more than ever – God is with us, enfolding us in love, and carrying us to new life.

 

And in the midst of it all – when so much of church life is not open to us – the words of Jesus still light up a path for us:

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."

 

God bless you.

 Rev. Neil Stacey