Like the other services of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday is so rich with imagery that one could (and some do) take a thousand directions. I'm thinking of going through the passover route, but I also find that one little line in the Gospel of John is a wonderful starting point for discovering Jesus
Jesus is about loving us, and loving us to the end. What does it mean to love someone to the end? Maybe it will help us to think about Judas. Judas is already planning to betray Jesus. And yet Jesus invites even Judas to share in this last supper with him. Jesus even loves Judas while he is betraying him. Jesus even loves Judas to the end. Jesus loves Judas enough to give Judas the freedom to betray him. Jesus does not stop him from doing this. Neither will he stop you. He gives you the freedom of choice to accept or reject, just as he gave that choice to Judas. Jesus will love you to the end. Even when we betray him, he loves us. God never leaves us, we leave him. Tomorrow on Good Friday we will see just how much we turn our backs on God.
How do you picture Jesus? We all have images in our minds of people that we know. The way we imagine them when we think about them. What is Jesus doing in your picture of him? We have seen many pictures of him in our lives - from Sunday School to Christmas cards. There He was – in a manger, while Angel choirs sang around him, and wise men from the east offered him gold and frankincense and myhhr. During Epiphany we saw him doing miracles – healing, feeding, changing water into wine – amazing the crowds and the disciples with his feats of power. He came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with shouts of joy. He has performed every miracle there is - he made the blind see and the lame to walk - he showed his power in walking on the water in the midst of the storm. He is the Son of David – the Messiah – the King of Israel – the very Word of God who created the universe and everything in it – He was with God the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time existed – from all eternity. He will come again as the Judge of the World. How does HE want us to picture Him?
And during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
What would I do if God had put all things into my hands, what would I use all that power for? Would I use it for the sake of others, or would I use it for myself?
The gospel tells us that Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, that he had come from God and was going to return to God. Jesus knew where he came from and where he was heading – he knew who he was. It was not a threat to him to get down on his hands and knees and get dirty. He wasn’t embarrassed, or ashamed, or self conscious. He didn’t care what he looked like, or what other people thought of him. He wasn’t afraid of doing the right thing, even if it made him look - well - look stupid. He was free from other peoples’ opinions of him. If you know you are from God and you are going to God – you will live freely.
Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going – do we? Jesus knew who he was; it wasn’t a threat to him to serve others. How could he show them one last time what his message was, what God was like, how we should live? By serving in a very humble way.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
Why does Peter want to refuse Jesus’ request? Why would any of us refuse this request from Jesus?
Maybe Peter is perhaps embarrassed. After all, if someone tells you that you need a wash, it’s not usually taken as a compliment. And it’s even worse if it is in front of your friends. We don’t like to have attention drawn to those parts of us that need to be washed. We don’t like attention drawn to those parts of our hearts and lives that need to be washed by Jesus. We don’t like to have God say to us “You’re dirty there” – especially if we are afraid that someone else is watching. We prefer to keep those things secret. Our private sins – our angers, or jealousies, our private lusts and desires, our pettiness, our selfishness, our greed.
Jesus says “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” We tend to forget two things – number one: Jesus only points out our dirtiness so that he can clean us; and number two: everyone else is dirty too. Peter was not the only disciple at that table who needed to have his feet washed; and neither are you. It’s actually freeing to admit that we are all on equal ground here – we all need Jesus to wash us. Nor is it any good pretending. It’s better to admit that we are all sinners and get on with the job of letting Jesus make us into saints.
Perhaps Peter thinks that this is somehow “beneath” Jesus. After all, washing feet is a slave’s job. Jesus is supposed to be doing something big and spectacular, not something ordinary and lowly. Peter doesn’t understand what Jesus is doing. Of course he doesn’t, and neither do we most of the time. Peter objects to what Jesus is doing. “Wait a minute Jesus, you are supposed to be God’s Son, this stuff is for other people. This is not important work, this is menial labour for slaves to do. Let one of the servants do this kind of thing.” I want you, Jesus, to do something big and impressive.
Too often we say to God, “don’t do that, do something else, do something magnificent and glorious, do something wonderful that will make us all oohh and ahhh. Don’t do something so lowly and paltry and foolish. Do something big!!! “
How often we want God to do something big and glorious in our lives, or in the lives of others, and instead he disappoints us with the lowly and mean and ordinary. Before Sarah Joy was born – we wanted a miracle – something big and impressive from God. Instead we got more of the ordinary - more nights spent in the hospital with countless other ordinary people – parents, husbands, wives - who did not receive a miracle. It is God’s gift to us to give us someone who requires more of the ordinary everyday care than usual. Someone who needs more help with ordinary things like sitting in a high chair learning to use a spoon, more help with ordinary chores like putting on a simple piece of clothing. More chances for us practice what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples about love. – about becoming like him in the day to day.
We want Jesus to show up in a big way, and do something glorious and amazing. We forget that what God thinks is glorious and amazing is performing simple acts of love for one another in our day to day lives.
Perhaps Peter had a bit too much pride to accept this act of service from someone else. Most of us don’t know how to accept a compliment, let alone someone like Jesus getting down and washing our feet.
We live in a “self-help” culture. Be self sufficient, don’t rely on anyone or anything else – all you need is within you. Jesus tells us that we need to learn to accept his help. And we need to learn to accept help from one another. God has designed his church so that we grow by learning to accept the gifts and help that we can bring to each other. Each of us is here to give, but before that, each of us is here to receive.
We have to learn how to accept help from others, we have to learn how to accept God helping us, we have to learn how to accept Jesus getting down and washing our feet. Too often we would rather say, “No thanks, I can do it by myself.” I can fix my own problems. I don’t need your advice, I don’t need your prayers, I don’t need your pity. I don’t want you to know that I have my weak spots. Pride.
If you don’t know how to accept help, chances are you really don’t know how to offer it. That is part of the lesson that Jesus is teaching his disciples. Learn to accept help from God – he wants to serve you.
related: thoughts on Maundy Thursday