John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday is not a celebration for the faint of heart. It is not an occasion, some say, for “exhortation,” encouraging, but for proclamation. It may just be a day for all of those things.
Maundy Thursday is a day for the faint of heart, for those who are timid and squeamish. For who among us can say that we relish the idea of eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood? Early Christians were accused of cannibalism, and with the words that we use, it is no wonder. Who but the very strong could withstand the criticism, ridicule, and fear? Fear? Yes, it is dangerous to be with Jesus; one of our own will disclose the location of the one who shares body and bread, blood and wine. Christ is present with all of us: friends strong and weak, those who will betray him, those who will deny him, those who cower in fear. Jesus is with US.
Maundy Thursday is a day for exhortation, for encouraging. We who are squeamish do not want to wash feet. Even more so, we who are timid do not want someone else to see our feet with their calluses, bunions, dry skin, and ragged winter toenails. Our toes are not yet ready for spring. Our Lord Jesus shows us how to wash one another’s feet, how to care for one another in the way that a slave cares for his lord. Jesus’ actions are an exhortation far more powerful than a preacher’s words.
Our kneeling this night is not about guilt. Some of us will choose to participate in the washing of feet by sitting, kneeling, watching, and praying. Our silent prayer is participation. So, too, does participation include hearing the splash of water, seeing a pile of towels, smelling feet and laundry soap and the darkness of the night. Washing feet might include helping someone up from the floor, filling a pitcher, emptying a basin. We who are timid have many ways to encourage one another, to follow the exhortation of our Lord.
This is a night for proclamation. Every time we gather is a time in which we proclaim Jesus as Lord. Tonight we proclaim in a different way, in washing and drying and being a little uncomfortable.
Tonight we proclaim in a familiar way, in bread and wine, in the Presence of Christ.
Liturgically, we leave tonight in the garden, at our own altar of repose. We leave Jesus there, although we have not been dismissed into the world. We leave him there, and we will sleep. Tomorrow, nothing will be the same. We will see our Savior on the bare wood of a cross.
We do all of this in the context of loving one another. “[Jesus], having loved his own who were in the world, (he) loved them to the end.”… “Love one another, not as the world loves, but as I have loved you.”
The core of what we are doing is Love. The meaning of what we are doing is Love. Jesus who gave us this commandment is Love.
Love is not a commandment from the world; it is not something that a king can demand of his people; it is not something that a slave owner can exact from his slaves. It is not something that God metes out as punishment. This law, commandment, love, comes from within. It is the love that Augustine of Hippo described when he wrote that “my heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
This love is not what we achieve
But what we are given.
We are given Love that doesn’t leave. We are given Love that stays with us in the face of evil, love that does not honor the bounds of slavery, of propriety, of society, or of our imaginations. This is love that we are given:
In the birth of a child
In the healing of the blind
In the touch of a garment
In arms outstretched
In feet that run to betray
In mouths that proclaim “I do not know you”
In hearts that know that the only way home
Is on our knees
At a holy table
In body bread
which we have been given.