On this Maundy Thursday, we reflect on the story of the disciples gathering with Jesus for what they will soon discover was their last meal together.
I wonder what that gathering was like. Don’t you? We know that Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, demonstrating the serving spirit that he hoped they would exemplify to others.
But what was this gathering really like? What was it like to be there?
Was there a crowded table with food passed from one neighbor to the other? Were there interweaving conversations - stories, anxieties, jokes, memories echoing over one another? Was there clinking of glasses? Did they join together in song relaxing after the meal as their feet were lovingly washed?
I wonder what it felt like to be in that space.
The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is unique to John, a gospel that pays particular attention to the importance of embodied faith and relationships.
Throughout John, Jesus addresses thirsty bodies in his conversation with the woman from Samaria (John 4), ill bodies as he heals in Jerusalem (John 5), hungry bodies at the feeding of the five thousand. (John 6) And tonight Jesus embodies for the disciples what serving all the needs of our neighbors should look like.
By lovingly washing their feet, Jesus challenges the disciples to do likewise, to embody the good news for those who need not only to hear it, but to experience it in their full selves.
At our best, for those we encounter in the world, we are an embodiment of the Gospel, the good news.
Of late, embodying the gospel in our time has looked like lovingly keeping a distance from one another, like wearing our masks, like delivering food to those experiencing hardship, like giving rides to vaccine appointments and offering space to those in recovery to distantly gather.
More often than not, embodying the gospel looks just like that. Like a ministry of presence and action, showing up and sticking with our neighbors in need.
Simply put, embodying the gospel looks like loving one another.
In our Gospel text for today, Jesus commands his disciples and calls us to love one another. He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
So how did Jesus demonstrate love throughout our story for today?
Jesus loved by showing generous hospitality. Jesus loved through service. Jesus loved by uplifting the work of those who many did not pay attention to. More than anything Jesus loved to the end.
I want us to sit with this particular verse from John for a moment, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Just think about what this means for us. This means that Jesus loves us to the close of whatever endings we are facing:
To the end of this pandemic
To the end of a relationship
To the end of a hard-fought battle with disease
To the end of a chapter of our lives
Jesus loves us to the end. Even when we walk out on Jesus like Judas. Even when we choose not to be in relationship with God. Jesus loves us anyway and keeps inviting us in. Into relationship. Into closeness with him. Into loving community with one another.
As I reflected on this verse in the larger context of Holy Week, I realized that while I find this verse to be powerful, (Jesus loved them to the end) it doesn’t capture the fullness of God’s love through Jesus.
Because Jesus loves us not only to the end, but through the end. Through the end of the world as it is, through the pain and anxiety that can accompany change, through the deaths that must happen before new life can begin.
New life is not only joyful beginnings because it is also the end of the way things were. Before moments of resurrection, there are often Good Friday and Holy Saturday times.
Times of grief
Times of loss
Times of sorrow
Times of uncertainty
Times of fear
Times where great faith is required
But all the way to resurrection, Jesus loves and keeps loving us into a better tomorrow.
May you feel God’s love for you this Holy Week. And just as Jesus has loved you, may you love one another and all those beyond these church walls embodying the good news in a world that so desperately needs it. May you love like Jesus, to and through the endings into new life together. Amen.