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John 13.1-17, 31b-35
Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray 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. 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.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
On Maundy Thursday we remember three gifts that Jesus is offering us. He is offering us the gift of service as he ties the towel around his waist, kneels on the floor and washes the feet of his disciples. He is offering us the gift of love as he gives us the new commandment of love as strong as his own. He is offering the gift of Holy Communion, the act of remembering and celebrating his physical presence among us as we share in the simple gifts of bread and wine. Today we remember these ultimate acts of generosity, Jesus’ parting and lasting gifts to all of humankind, for ever.
But … how good are we at receiving offers of service, love and remembrance? It is part of our culture that we should not feel the need to ask for help. We like to think we are able to stand on our own two feet and support ourselves and our loved ones without ‘interference’ from ‘outside’. How many times has someone offered to help you and you have rejected that offer with words like: I’m alright, thank you, or I can manage by myself, or I don’t need anyone’s help? It is something we do all the time. Even when our need is at its greatest we resist the helping hand of others because we perceive the acceptance of such help as a display of our own weakness.
Today, we find ourselves in the Upper Room sharing in the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. Following Jesus’ giving of his great gifts, he will move to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will seek help and strength from his Father in heaven. Jesus knows that he is about to be betrayed; Jesus knows that he will soon be denied; Jesus knows that his earthly life is coming to a close. And yet, despite all of this, Jesus pauses to share the generosity of his love and service with those closest to him. He does not share that love and service as a private act of friendship but as a commissioning. And, the gift of Holy Communion is given as a way of reminding us of this momentous turning point in the history of humanity.
The next couple of days are difficult days for all people of faith because of the sense of loss and emptiness that accompanies them. Jesus will die on the cross and Jesus will lie in the tomb. But … on the third day Jesus will rise again. Jesus will return and will remind us of the great commission to take his example of love and service out into every corner of the world. And, when we are feeling weak and powerless, Jesus will feed us and sustain us with his presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As we prepare for the torment and desolation of the days before us let us hold out our hands and thank our Lord for the gifts of Maundy Thursday, and let us make sure we pass those gifts on to all whom we meet, that their moments of agony and despair may be eased through the comfort and consolation that comes from Christ alone.