John 13 1-5, 12-17, 33-35
Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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.
12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
“33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is Jesus’ last meal on earth. And he chooses to celebrate it with his closest friends. They don’t know it yet – that this will be their last dinner or festival together – they assume that everything will just continue until Jesus finally brings in the kingdom that they expect. That haunts me: that difference of expectation. I wonder sometimes whether we who have been part of the church for a long time are so invested in our vision of what we expect the church to be that we may not see where Jesus is calling us to go. I worry that as Jesus is showing us the way of humility, we are looking for comfort, or for what church is doing to make us feel good about our own lives. The crew sitting at the table, is shocked when Jesus strips down and washes each one’s feet. And Jesus, knowing that he has already given them everything that they need to continue his work, except this one last thing, his tender service, the example they will never forget of what God’s love looks like.
“He loved them in the world and now he loved them to the very end.” And this is what love looks like; he shows them. And now he gives them the mandate to love each other as Jesus has loved them himself. This is our call, too, and also our recognition that we are so loved and favored by God that we are being used as God’s presence in the world of our time. Perhaps our gathering tonight, three churches in one congregation, is just a hint of what that might look like if Jesus were here washing our feet and telling us that we are on our own now, commanding us to live God’s love for all humanity, regardless of status, color, gender, or performance as God’s people.
We are only called to love, not to judge, not to correct, not to try to explain away the differences in our traditions. We are called to rejoice in our invitation to God’s table, as we have been included in the story through the thousands of years of invitation by disciples like those in our story tonight. That night, no one got it right. Judas sold out the whole thing, betraying his Rabbi with a kiss. Peter swore he didn’t know that criminal. The rest simply disappeared. We can only imagine how hard it must have been to look each other in the face after that, and agree to remember Jesus’ words and example of lifting the lowly and inviting the sinner into fellowship. But loving as Jesus loved is still the command, then and now.
Tonight as we share the remembrance of the meal that was Jesus’ last, we celebrate Jesus’ invitation to us. Each of us comes to this mystery of Jesus’ continuing presence with us in spite of our failures and stubbornness, and because of our trust that God has summoned us to be Jesus’ witnesses in our own lives. This is the faith we share and the faith that we live; that Jesus did not suffer and die in vain, but that the overwhelming love of God shown to us there on the cross, still has the power to change our hearts and through us to change the world. May it be so. Amen.