Homily for Maundy Thursday 2020
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 Psalm 116:1, 10-17 I Cor. 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The Gospel of John sends its usual mixed messages, perplexing and challenging and wondrous all at the same time. A lot of Christians name John’s gospel as their favorite gospel. Have you read it lately? Yes, we remember, “God so loved the word.” But if we read it fully, we may get more than we bargained for.
John’s account of the Last Supper differs from the synoptic gospels in timing and emphasis. In the synoptics, Jesus eats the Passover meal with the twelve and following the meal institutes the Lord’s Supper. In John, the last meal is before the Passover, and there is not account of the institution of the Eucharist. For John, Jesus does not eat the Passover, he is the Passover, bleeding and dying as the Passover lamb.
John’s Gospel sets the scene with a three themes. The first theme is time itself. The story opens with John suggesting that Jesus knew that “his hour” had come. This hour marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry, and at the same time, begins Jesus’ private ministry to his disciples. From her on out, Jesus is preparing those he loves for the hour of his glory.
For many of us, today is an ordinary Thursday. Nothing, other than the Corona virus has made it any different. It is an ordinary day. We come burdened with lists of things to do and not do to safely distance ourselves, pressures with work to be done at home or elsewhere, family worries, and distractions of so many news stories giving us more and more information on the virus. But, now we gather, with the hope that something prayed, or said, or sung may change us and charge this ordinary time with an “extraordinary” revelation.
For us gathered today, knowing or unknowing of what is to come, all of us are walking into an hour in which Jesus shows all who love him, his mission and strategy of the church’s love for the world.
The second theme involves just that – Jesus’ mission and strategy for the church. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his hour by showing them what glory looks like in the kingdom of God. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet shows us the whole of Jesus’ message and the strategy of his mission: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
In the foot washing, like the incarnation, the method is the message. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus chooses to empty himself rather than promote himself. This act of humble service and submission is the church’s model of mission into the world, the means by which God’s “glory” will be experienced by all who will follow after Jesus has gone to the Father. The genius of the strategy is that everyone can do it – whatever rank, gender, or race – all can serve another. Perhaps in less physical contact this year than in year’s past – but the idea of humble service and submission is what we hear this year. If we do, this action would allow God’s glory to shine into every life. Foot washing represents more than humble service, it is a sermon preached by all of us – a sermon to the world about how to love. The significance of this silent sermon of Jesus is not lost on the disciples.
Peter’s response of protest, “Jesus, you will never wash my feet,” is worth exploring as our third theme. It is important to remember that Peter is coming off of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. His band of brothers and sisters have been firsthand witnesses to seven different signs signifying that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Their anticipation for Jesus to fulfill his identity by putting the world to rights and raising Israel from the ash heap is electric. As they enter Jerusalem for Passover, they see that the masses have gathered with all the energy, hype, and celebration due a conquering hero. Jesus’ washing their feet is anything but kingly. This is not the glory modeled by Caesar or Herod, certainly not the glory Peter has anticipated for the long-awaited Messiah!
Peter’s response suggests he has his own vision of what Jesus should do and be – for Peter’s fate is linked to Jesus’ fate. After three years of being taught, tested, and tried by Jesus, the rewards of glory are just in sight for him. Payday is coming. The hour of Jesus’ triumph is also the hour when Peter anticipates the rise of his own status. Peter’s protest is the seed in the heart of betrayal. Jesus knows and so he says, “Unless, I wash you, you have no share with me.” It may be that Jesus’ response to Peter is intended not only for him, but for all whose hearts are tempted to ignore the revelation of God that shines in the darkness.
The witness of Jesus is not the image of power and privilege, but one of service. This service to others is the way of love and the mark of a true disciple. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is the choice faced by all of us who have gathered in Jesus’ name. Today, on Maundy Thursday, taken from the Latin word mandatum – the mandate, we hear, “You must love one another.” So, in preparation for tomorrow, Jesus asks us to understand our discomfort to being served and what it reveals to us. If we will not allow him to serve us, then we cut ourselves off from him. If we allow ourselves to be drawn into the depths of this moment, we see with clarity that Jesus shows us our human fallenness in Peter. Peter’s humanity is our humanity.
On Maundy Thursday, we see Jesus’ act as a model of humility and service that the church is to emulate. The servant is no greater than the master, and the posture of washing feet whether understood literally or figuratively, vividly holds that truth before the eyes of the Church. It is a moment in time when we are asked to lay aside our expectations, our judgments, our concerns and to be present, to be real, to be the hands and heart and feet of Christ.
Mother Teresa always said that she saw the face of Jesus in the poor that she served. When asked about her mission to the poor, she responded, “People often misunderstand us…they think we do it first because we love the poor. Tell them we do it for Jesus….we do it, with Jesus, for Jesus and to Jesus.” With Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. Perhaps today, we will see the face of Jesus in a friend who needs groceries, or needs someone to talk to, pray with. Amen.