Maundy Thursday: “As I Have Loved You”


“A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you.” This is what Jesus said at the time he washed his disciples feet, and at the last supper where he broke bread, as his body was to be broken soon after on the cross. This is how he first demonstrated love to us and then commanded us to [show/do] love for one another. In fact the very term “Maundy”  used to describe the Thursday in Holy Week comes from the Latin word mandatum, the first word in the phrase “A new commandment I give to you…” But here as in other places in Scripture, Jesus is turning our understanding of both Himself and of love upside down.
In fact, this is not a new command. It’s just that we need it clarified. We – like the disciples who thought they knew Jesus, like the pharisees and religious leaders who thought they had it right, like all the generations before us who thought they understood – have cloudy vision and need to put the glasses of Jesus on, as it were. And now, during Holy Week, we – like generations before us – have the opportunity to do so. As we walk through the week with Jesus, and experience some of what he did then, we can discover anew what Jesus is calling us to, particularly here in South Salem.

Think back to Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we started outside with palms and walked in celebration together around this house, singing “All Glory Laud and Honor”. We reenacted what really happened: Jesus came triumphantly into Jerusalem for Passover, and the crowds of people – us – welcomed him as the king and messiah. Hooray! But very quickly, for them in the span of a few days, and for us in the course of the service, the crowds turned from praising to jeering. They – we – turned from receiving Him to yelling Crucify him! Kristen+ reflected a bit on that, wondering if we were able to turn so quickly from praise to jeers because Jesus didn’t fit our expectations. He wasn’t what they wanted or thought He should be. And sometimes He isn’t what we want or think He should be.  Jesus does that, doesn’t he? He turns our expectations upside down.

Jesus issued a command to his disciples and us that night of Passover: love one another as I loved you. And he demonstrated this kind of love for us in two concrete ways. Neither one, I think, is easy to follow or really makes much sense, especially if you think back to Nate’s sermon a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, it’s  what Jesus did, and what he calls us to. I want to think with you about two examples of his commandment to us.

The first: he washed his disciples feet. It’s helpful to know a bit of context here; some may think feet are kind of gross, but feet were really super gross in that time period. Shoes were basic strips of leather, tied with a thong. The streets were not paved, there was not the same level of sanitation that we have.  There were animals and all kinds of dirt and sewage that people walked in.  When we lived in NYC, we had a strict policy of leave your shoes at the door – they got disgusting walking around all day. Imagine your feet in that condition, and having someone wash them. In fact, it was a servant’s job to do the foot washing, so Jesus tips this idea even further that he Himself would do the washing. He stoops low to do a dirty job that no one else wanted to do. And it’s somewhat intimate – he touches the dirty spots in our life and makes them clean. That’s what he wants us to do, to do through us. He wants us to stoop low and do the dirty work. I read somewhere that Pope Francis is going to wash the feet of 12 inmates somewhere tonight, and for me, that picture is so Jesus.  Why would the Pope, the leader, by every right entitled to his own pedicure, stoop to do that for a bunch of prisoners, of all people? Shouldn’t he at least be doing this for the cardinals? Or perhaps some bishops? [Note: I found out later that the Pope not only washed prisoners feet, but women prisoners feetAnd one was a Muslim woman. Can you imagine a more unlikely candidate?] The Pope truly has modeled for us the spirit of Jesus.

The second demonstration of this command happened when Jesus instituted the Eucharist for us. He broke bread, as his body was to be broken and he poured wine as his blood was to be poured out – for us and for the sins of many. He gave up his life so that we might have life. He demonstrated this over and over again in his life, but it was this last act, this death of himself that is our healing. And it’s what we are called to. We are called to give up ourselves – our goals, our dreams, our plans, our will, our agenda – for the sake of the other. We are to do this continually, and in many different ways. Some of us may be even to be called to do this literally, at the end of our life. I think about the testimony of David Lumsdaine’s life, and how the testimony pointed to this: he sacrificed himself and lived in concern for others even to the very end. Each of us are called to do this and I pray that when the time comes for someone to recount each of our lives, this will be what they say.

Frankly, this is so hard to do. We’d rather not. We’d rather be comfortable, be safe, be secure, be….well, anything but low. Or dead. We’d rather let others serve us or help only when it’s convenient. Friends, it’s a hard word, but that’s not what Jesus called us to, commanded us to, or even promises for us. It doesn’t make sense either, if you consider it as Judas did – as an accountant (one who accounts for things). So the question for us becomes will we be willing to stoop down and to do the dirty work? Are we willing to die, to ourselves and for the other? I don’t yet know the concrete ways in which Jesus is asking us to do these things, but those questions need to be answered. In doing so, let us consider Jesus’ words and example, and endeavor to follow Him, in the way that doesn’t make sense, the way of the Cross, stooping low, even dying. For then we may find life, abundant and eternal.

Note: I gave this homily at our church service (in our living room) on Maundy Thursday 2013. It’s also posted on our church blog.

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