Fleshing Out Love

Maundy Thursday
Indian Hill Church
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine

13: 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 When he had gone out, 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.” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35, NRSV)

Let us pray: Eternal God, in the sharing of a meal your son established a new covenant for all people, and in the washing of feet he showed us the dignity of service. Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these signs of our life in faith may speak again to our hearts, feed our spirits, and refresh our bodies. Amen.

Tonight is called Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the command, or the mandate, mandatum in Latin, that Jesus gave his followers that they should Love One Another.

We may think of this night and this service as the commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples; in reality this night is set apart to remind us that Jesus’ final words and deeds with his beloved friends were words and deeds of love, and his final command to his followers was to love one another.

The importance of this story is often lost in the magnitude of Holy Week. When Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and bows down before his disciples; he is not only humbling himself; in their eyes, he is humiliating himself. According to New Testament Scholar Robert Kysar, “Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples is a radical departure from custom, since servants were not even required to wash the feet of their master.” Jesus washes all his disciples’ feet, even Judas. From this moment of humble servanthood Jesus continues to demonstrate just how much God loves the world by through his betrayal, his arrest, his suffering, his pain, and ultimately his death.

Foot washing, nobody likes other people to touch their feet much less wash them. Foot washing is a sign of humility and respect and obedience. So, when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he turns everything on its head. This was a powerful sign of the radical nature of God and God loves, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. When Jesus does this act of humble service, he demonstrates that loving one another and treating one another with love and respect is more important than life itself.

It is striking that these are the words Jesus’ leaves with his disciples. I mean, he could have said, “Come protect me.” Or, “Go out and die with me.” Or, “keep the faith.” Or, “when I am gone go out and teach and preach to all the world.” Or, any number of things. But instead he left them with this challenge to “love one another.”

Jesus command to love one another is not easy. He is not talking about romantic love, he is asking more of us than simply being nice, and it is more than only loving those who love you back. This kind of love is what God is all about, love your brother, your sister, your parents, your friends, yes, but more so; love your neighbor, love the unlovable, love the least, the last, the lost, and love your enemies.

Why? Because God is love, and love is God and love is the basis of God and Jesus but it is also the hallmark of the Christian church. As in the old camp song so simply but truthfully says it, “
They will know we are Christians by our love by our love,
yes they will know we are Christians by our love.

Not by our sermons or by our sacraments, not by our buildings or our programs, not by our mission or our outreach, or our family values….but by our love. That is Jesus message, his mandate. Love one another.

But we get it backwards, don’t we.
Instead of seeking ways to serve others, we complain about the service others render to us.
Instead of looking to love others, we read magazine articles about “How to GET the love you really deserve.”
Instead of thinking about how we can help others improve their lives, we plot and plan for how we can get ahead.
Have you ever thought about what those words mean, “get ahead?” They mean me in front of everyone else. They mean— me first, they mean, I’ll take care of me and mine and the heck with everyone else.

Yes, we get it backwards. No matter how much we try, we get it backwards.
“This master and servant, love one another, serve the world” stuff that Jesus talks so much about is really difficult. It is hard because it is counter cultural, it is backwards to our way of life and our ways of thinking. So, Jesus not only told us to love one another, He showed us how.
He showed us how when he washed the disciples’ feet.
He showed us how when he fed his friends at table.
He showed us how when he blessed the thief who died with him.
He showed us how when he forgave those who killed him.
He showed us how when he died upon the cross, “for us and for our salvation.”

We get it backwards and we can only get it right when we die to ourselves and let the life of Christ rise up within us, following him on the way of service, the way of love, the way of the cross. That is Jesus message, his mandate. Love one another.

Let us pray:

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