Summary: On Maundy Thursday Jesus sets an example for the disciples when he is gone
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Lord, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my mouth and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
This week that the Christian world calls ‘Holy Week’ commemorates the last – and most important week of Jesus’ life – for in this week, he moved intentionally from glory and praise to a painful death and martyrdom; from celebrations and acclamations of his divinity; from betrayal, abandonment, torture, mockery, humiliation and death. And then finally the resurrection!
If Jesus had not risen from death to appear to his disciples, we might not remember him at all – and if history did recall him, it would be perhaps as just another interesting, non-conventional Jewish prophet. But we are headed this week to Sunday – and to the resurrection of the Son of Man and the Son of God, and all that means for us. On Sunday we will joyfully celebrate the promise and assurance of eternal life that Jesus of Nazareth revealed to us all.
In this final holy week of Jesus’ life, he spent most of his time teaching his disciples the important lessons for life that he came to show: peace, forgiveness, and the need to love and serve one another to the end.
It was an important time in the Jewish religion – the week of Passover – and Jesus came to Jerusalem with his disciples to observe this high holy day. On this night, Thursday night, he gathered his friends, his disciples for the Passover feast.
Tradition has it that they gathered in the second story room of the house of John Mark’s mother – John Mark being the author of Mark’s Gospel. During this Passover Seder feast, Jesus demonstrated so many of the things he taught the disciples to do and be.
One thing that he did that has always stood out in my mind, was that he washed the feet of his disciples as they entered the Upper Room. It was the custom that when guests arrived at a home, a servant of the house removed their sandals and washed their feet – feet tired, sore, and dirty from rocky paths and streets. This menial task was beneath the dignity of the master of the house, so a servant did it.
But our Redeemer was a King like no other, and just as he had entered Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey, rather than on a war horse, just as he was greeted by peasants with palm branches rather than legions of soldiers with swords, so Jesus became a servant to his friends, and washed their feet.
After the Passover dinner, he gave his disciples a ritual feast and asked them to remember him always by sharing a meal – the breaking of bread and drinking of wine.
On this Thursday night, Jesus knew full well what lay ahead of him – he knew Judas would betray him, that even Peter would not stand by him, that all his disciples would abandon him, hiding in a locked room, full of fear and cowardice. On this night he prayed for strength, he asked God, his father, to spare him, but knew it could not be.
Jesus knew if his teachings and examples were to go forward, his disciples would have to do it, and ready or not, he kept showing them what to do. He told them:
You can't say you love me, if you won't love those I suffered and died for!" (1 John 3:14-18 & 4:7-12.)
Jesus then went willingly to his trial, sentencing, and crucifixion in preparation for his resurrection for all humankind.
For anyone who has traveled the end-of-life journey with someone they care for, they have learned that near the end, the person leaves a message for those who survive. This is something that is extremely important to the dying person – something they want their loved ones to remember them by. It is always important to remember the last words of the person who is about to die; they usually spend their last breath saying things critically important to them. And finally, on this night, Jesus’ last words to them were:
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you." (John 13:34)
So tonight we remind ourselves what this world would be without love – we remove the music, the art, the flowers - and finally the light. We leave this place in darkness and silence – for our world and our lives would be dismal and fearful indeed, had Jesus not come to earth and shown that love and service, forgiveness and compassion are
“the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)