Sermon

Maundy Thursday Reflection based on John 13: 1-17; 31b-35

Earlier this week, I listened to a piece of music based on the Last Supper. The piece is called “In Remembrance of Me,” by Marcus Hummon. The song tries to capture the emotions that were present in the upper room that night when Jesus shared the Passover meal with the twelve.  

What struck me as I listened to the music was the love that filled the room that night. Love – Jesus’ deep affection for his friends; his love for us that radiates from that upper room through the centuries into our gathering tonight. Of all the different emotions that were present in the room that night, it is love that the Gospel emphasizes: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” 

I imagine the day went something like this: Thursday was a busy day. The disciples were hastily gathering the food and supplies necessary for the seder meal, not to mention trying to secure a room for the dinner. All was in order when they gathered on Mount Zion that fateful evening. And then they got into an argument, right there at the table. About what? Who of them would be the greatest in the coming kingdom Jesus had promised!  

At this point the greatest among them became the servant of all of them. Jesus arose from the table, girded Himself with a towel, and knelt before each of them to wash their feet.  

Whose feet needed washing the most that night? Whose feet in a matter of hours would be nailed fast to a Roman cross. And His were the only feet that left that night unwashed. Why? Jesus took all our sins to the cross with Him and washed our sins away with his blood on the cross.  

It is easy to overlook the love, because our attention is naturally drawn to all the other dynamics present in the drama that unfolds before us. We know that Judas is about to betray the Lord and that Peter is about to deny him. We know of the painful, bitter ordeal that awaits Jesus only hours after the meal is over. Because these dynamics are often at the forefront of our minds, the Last Supper has come to have a tragic dimension to it. We associate Maundy Thursday with the painful events that it portends, and it takes on a distinct heaviness. 

Of course, the atmosphere in the room that night was charged because of all these conflicts and emotions. But if we were to ask any of the 12 who were present that night to tell us what it was like – “What did you experience?” – I am confident that they would answer: We knew that we were loved. 

I would like for you to think for a minute about those occasions when you knew that you were loved. In these moments, we may be acutely aware that the love we experience is somehow undeserving. We may very well have the sense that I am loved, not for what I have accomplished or for what I deserve, but because of the love that emanates from the person who loves me. The embarrassment that we sometimes feel in such a moment comes from the recognition that I do not deserve to be loved this way. We sense that there is a surplus of love and affection that spills out from the person and that covers our flaws. 

Let’s return to the upper room for a moment. How does Jesus communicate his love to the twelve – and to us – in this moment? 

For one thing, the Lord lets them know that he values their companionship. He values it so much that he wants to spend his last hours with them. “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you,” he says. I imagine that meal had many of the same joys that Jesus and his followers shared in countless other meals over the years. There was good food. Wine to make the heart glad. Meaningful conversation. There was probably some laughter. In this intimate moment, Jesus can let his guard down for a while. Think about how satisfying it is to linger over a good meal with the people you care most about – and you can appreciate the love that filled that upper room. 

Second, Jesus is completely there for his friends. He is focused on their needs rather than his own. One clear indication that a person loves us is when the person can forget himself or herself long enough to concentrate on us and on our needs. In the upper room, Jesus is thinking about what life will be like for the disciples after he is gone. So, he focuses on their need to feel close to him. For that reason, he gives them a concrete way of remembering him: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you remember my death, you bear witness to my resurrection, and you look forward to my coming in glory.” At the moment when Jesus could have been consumed with the events that await him, he is able to be there for them utterly, completely. 

Third, Jesus expresses his love for his friends – and for us – concretely and visibly. He washes their feet – such an intimate, personal touch, and such an expression of humility. We know that we are truly loved when the person who loves us expresses that love – verbally or with some gesture. And in this gesture, Jesus lets his friends know that he forgives them. He knows that Judas is about to betray him, that Peter is about to deny him, and that before long, all of them will abandon him. And with this knowledge, he enfolds them with his love.  

I hope that these reflections register the deep love that radiates from the Last Supper, so that we feel loved by the Lord in this service. We experience love most powerfully when we can love in return. And so tonight, we love and honour the Lord Jesus Christ as we remember him. 

Let us pray: 

Gracious God, 
As those who strive to follow Jesus in our living and to trust your power in our dying, we gather to reflect upon the life that ended on a cross. 
We recognize in ourselves the strengths and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples: 
although they loved him, they disappointed and failed him. And yet, gathering with these imperfect friends at this last meal Jesus washed their feet in service, and then extended the bread and cup to each. Jesus called them to love one another, and invited them to share in his very life and in his acceptance of the road ahead. We are humbled, honoured and inspired 
by the deep love Christ extended to the world, and we take seriously the calling to be the body of Christ today. Forgive us when we disappoint and fail you, and guide us back to a place of trust and faithful living. Grant us the vision to see the world as you see it, with love and compassion for each creature and all of your creation. Though Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Amen. 

-Vanda Chittenden

(prayer written by Rev. Kelly Burd) 

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