Reflection for Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

by Eric Anderson

The Gospel reading leaves out a couple of things. In the section we skipped, verses 18 through 30, Jesus predicted that one of his disciples would hand him over. He even identified Judas, though in a way only one or two could recognize in the moment. It’s after Judas left the room that Jesus told his friends that they should love one another.

Our reading stopped there, but we might also have continued, because immediately afterward Jesus told Simon Peter that he would deny him three times that very night.

So there we have it in John’s thirteenth chapter: Jesus told his disciples to love one another. He showed them how to do it by washing their feet.

And even as he did these things, every single one of them was on the road to disappointing him. One of them set him up for arrest, trial, and execution on a cross. One of them would disavow knowing him. The others avoided that by running away.

Love one another. Wash one another’s feet. He told them that knowing they’d disappoint him.

The crucial phrase is, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Suzanne Guthrie writes, “How DID Jesus love us? By befriending and eating with outcasts and sinners, collaborators and prostitutes, the unclean, the impure, the unloved. By stretching the boundaries of his own love. By self-sacrificial life and death. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have this kind of love for one another.”

Tonight we come to this worship and this table with the ambition to love one another as Jesus loves us. I can tell you that our congregation tonight challenges some. We worship in four languages tonight, where many would be more comfortable with one. I confess that I am well aware of the privilege I have to speak to you in my native tongue. We come together from cultures and experiences separated by thousands of miles of distance and thousands of years of history. Many in the world today would erect physical walls to maintain such differences.

We come from different church traditions within Protestantism. There are some in the world today who insist on a pure Church, free from the “errors” of others. One of those presiding at the Lord’s supper tonight is a sister, the Rev. Rae Lelili’o. There are people in the world today who reject a woman’s leadership in the church.

Our worship together tonight looks a lot like the love Jesus commanded.

But shall we be honest? Jesus knows our hearts anyway. There is tension and anxiety and disagreement among us. It exists between our congregations, it exists within each church’s membership, it exists within our circles of family and friends. We may not be ready to hand one another over, but we could very well come to the point of saying, “I just don’t know about them!”

And it is oh, so easy to simply run away.

Alyce M. McKenzie writes, “The command to love one another in this text is like a candle in a dark and brutal world, in danger of being blown out by the betrayal of Judas that precedes it and the denial of Peter that follows it. It reminds me of the seeming fragility of the good news of Easter in a violent world… In each of our lives the good news that Jesus Christ has conquered death and sin is susceptible to erosion by the sheer wear and tear of daily duties and disappointments.”

 “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

He could at least have made it look easy. He could have skipped the washing of the feet. He could have left out the prediction of Judas’ betrayal. He could have omitted his deep knowledge of Simon Peter.

But it is not easy, and Jesus never pretended that it was.

Very well. We will be imperfect pupils of a demanding Teacher. And if we do not love all that well, we know that the Teacher loves us best of all. He loved all of them. He loved them even though he knew they’d run away. He loved them even though he knew one would deny him. He loved them even though…

As Nancy Rockwell writes, “Jesus came among us as one who serves and Judas was one whom he served. As one who tells this tale, it is important that I not omit there is one who belongs in it who did something most of us consider terribly evil.  And that he, too, is part of the story of how God is glorified.  Even Judas is part of the washed, part of the story of Easter.”

I know. That just made it harder. How are we supposed to love as Jesus loved if Jesus loved Judas? I confess that I don’t know. I struggle with that one. I think we all have to struggle with that one.

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Remember that even as we are summoned to love one another, Jesus said that he loves us. If the flighty disciples are among the washed, so are we. If the denier is among the washed, so are we. If the betrayer is among the washed: so are we.

Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Let us come to the table of Jesus’ love. Let us be filled with the aloha of Christ.


Listen to the Recorded Reflection

It’s a little different from the prepared reflection. Not very different. A little different.

Photo of worship at Church of the Holy Cross on April 18, 2019, by Newton Chu. Gratefully used by permission.

Categories Lent, Sermons | Tags: , , , | Posted on April 18, 2019

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