Highland Presbyterian Church
April 9th, 2020
Hunkered Down Devotions
John 13:31-35 (VOICE)
31 Upon Judas’s departure, Jesus spoke:
Jesus: Now the Son of Man will be glorified as God is glorified in Him. 32 If God’s glory is in Him, His glory is also in God. The moment of this astounding glory is imminent. 33 My children, My time here is brief. You will be searching for Me; and as I told the Jews, “You cannot go where I am going.” 34 So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. 35 Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.
Have you ever wondered why we call this day ‘Maundy’ Thursday? This is a little embarrassing, but I was in high school before I realized it wasn’t ‘Monday Thursday’. Now, mind you, I don’t have any idea what Monday Thursday meant either. But that is what I thought it was.
Believe it or not, this was not something I was taught in seminary either. Thankfully we live in the age of Google. And in just a few clicks it is easy to find out that the term ‘Maundy Thursday’ most likely is the modern English word that comes from the middle English and old French word, mande, that word coming from the Latin word mandatum, Mandatum is the first word in Latin of the words of Jesus from John 13: A New command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Maundy, once you understand what the weird word means, it is pretty clear that it is the perfect name for this important day. This night is Jesus last chance to tell his disciples something before his death.
When people know they are in these, last chance situations, they tend not to waste time, but rather focus on what is truly important. And this is exactly what Jesus does here. Jesus focus can be summed up in those words that have really become a mandate for all of us that might try to follow Jesus: We have to love one another and we have to love, not just when we feel like it or halfheartedly, but rather we are commanded to love each other as God has loved us.
And as always, Jesus didn’t just talk about his love, he demonstrated that love in his actions. That’s why this day is so important and so powerful, because along with the words Jesus speaks – words that are dripping with meaning and power – there are these two iconic actions: the institution of the Lord’s Supper or communion and Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples.
These two acts of God our savior – the willful choice to wash the dirty feet of his followers and the willful choice to give his life, even until death, for each and every one of us – even taken without the accompanying words of Jesus define for us what Jesus means when he speaks of love.
For Jesus, when the time was running short, as he was spending his last meal with his disciples it was all about love. He wanted his disciples to know that their call and his command to them - and to us – is to love each other (read everybody) as he has loved us.
And those words are framed perfectly by the two main actions that Jesus perpetrates this night, one of service and one of sacrifice. First, let’s look at the act of service. Some things never change, and one of those things is that feet are gross. And if our feet our gross now, they were even more gross in Jesus’ time.
Jesus lived in a time when the fashion for footwear was exclusively sandals and the roads and streets that were traveled were dirt and mud. So the feet were even dirtier and less appealing than now. Feet were so gross and got so dirty that it was common practice for the owner of the house to provide for his or her guests to have their feet washed upon entering or before a meal.
The custom was for the host to provide for that foot washing, it was certainly not common – in fact, it was unheard of - for the host or the guest of honor to do the foot washing himself. Foot washing was a menial – and gross – task for the servants to do, not for the master.
But for Jesus, nothing was beneath him. Jesus lived to love and showed that love by serving. Now for the act of sacrifice. What Jesus did for the disciples the night of that last supper is try to symbolically explain to them what is about to happen and why.
What we remember symbolically each time we come to the table is what Jesus has done for us and why. Jesus showed his love for us in his sacrifice on the cross. But we know that he didn’t make that sacrifice without moments of doubt. Jesus, wanted and wished that there was another way – but his love for us and for God – he showed that love in and through his obedient action.
Today we remember what Jesus has done for us, and we are try to follow his example in our own lives. And those words that we so often say – that we are ‘following him’ are important. Because our lives in Christ – lives that are meant to be lived out in love, are not about what we think or even just about what we say.
Jesus didn’t say, ‘Think about me’, instead it was always ‘Follow me’. And in John’s gospel Jesus usually takes it to the next step – ‘love me’. Jesus and John are telling us that Love that is only knowledge of love is not yet true love.
As Jesus says, it is blessed to know him, but it is more blessed to do as he does (John 13:17), transforming his enigmatic action at and before the table into an example for us to follow throughout life.
On this Maundy Thursday, and every day, it is a command for us to obey. Sometimes we think, and we preachers unwittingly imply, that the greatest challenge of the Christian faith is right thinking. We think of Jesus as some sort of a folky philosopher – and as preachers we can believe that Jesus needs our explanation.
When we do this we set out our Christian faith a sometimes challenging, often baffling set of principles or ideas. To be sure the intellectual love of the faith is indeed a blessed thing. We are urged and called to grow in our knowledge of the Lord. And yet, even more blessed is active following of the faith – not thinking but doing the faith.
Following Christ, doing faith by living out a servant and sacrificial love.
P.S. In my personal devotion today, I read two things that were especially meaningful to me, so I thought I would share them – as I was tempted to just offer them as the devotion today….
The first is from Fredrich Buechner and can be found here
The second is from Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran priest who is not someone I normally read, but this was shared with me, and I found it incredibly moving. You can read it here
I hope you find those as meaningful as I did.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: God, Thank you for cleansing us so that we may have access to your table. Thank you for feeding us with your life and your Word. Help us to have the courage to live and love as you have taught us. Amen.