(Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
(watch here: https://youtu.be/ucLny1_oSpM)
1Now 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 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. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” 31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.”
In his book, Dad, the Family Coach, Dave Simmons recalls an incident he once had with his children that was profoundly inspirational. He writes:
“Two weeks after the stolen steak deal, I took Helen (eight years old) and Brandon (five years old) to the Cloverleaf Mall in Hattiesburg to do a little shopping. As we drove up, we spotted a Peterbilt eighteen-wheeler parked with a big sign on it that said, ‘Petting Zoo.’ The kids jumped up in a rush and asked, ‘Daddy, Daddy. Can we go? Please. Please. Can we go?’
“’Sure,’ I said, flipping them both a quarter before walking into Sears. They bolted away, and I felt free to take my time looking for a scroll saw. A petting zoo consists of a portable fence erected in the mall with about six inches of sawdust and a hundred little furry baby animals of all kinds. Kids pay their money and stay in the enclosure enraptured with the squirmy little critters while their moms and dads shop.
“A few minutes later, I turned around and saw Helen walking along behind me. I was shocked to see she preferred the hardware department to the petting zoo. Recognizing my error, I bent down and asked her what was wrong.
“She looked up at me with those giant limpid brown eyes and said sadly, ‘Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter.’ Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard. She repeated the family motto. The family motto is in ‘Love is Action!’
“She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen. She had watched Sandy take my steak and say, ‘Love is Action!’ She had watched both of us do and say ‘Love is Action!’ for years around the house and Kings Arrow Ranch. She had heard and seen ‘Love is Action,’ and now she had incorporated it into her little lifestyle. It had become part of her.
“What do you think I did? Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it.
“Because she knew the whole family motto. It’s not ‘Love is Action.’ It’s ‘Love is SACRIFICIAL Action!’ Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another’s account. Love is for you, not for me. Love gives; it doesn’t grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action.”
What Mr. Simmons understood, as his story illustrates, is that love is more than just a four-letter word we say to each other to convey our feelings of gratitude or compassion or appreciation. Loving someone goes beyond a simple, spoken word. When we truly love someone, we are compelled into action. We want to do something that expresses our feelings to our beloved. We want to show our beloved exactly how much we love him/her. True love compels us into action whether we like it or not. True love elicits action from those it falls upon. The Simmons family motto of “Love is action” nicely conveys this wisdom.
But even that wisdom doesn’t adequately capture the fullness of true love as Mr. Simmons’ daughter taught him. True love does more than compel us into action. True love compels us into sacrificial action. True love compels us to give up something that may benefit us in order to give it to another. Whether it’s our time or our money or any of our personal resources, true love compels us to give up something to another. Many of us go so far as to give up our sanity over love! Giving up a quarter to a sibling for the sake of their enjoyment can seem trivial when compared to what some people are compelled to sacrifice for love.
Indeed, over the next few days we will reflect yet again on the sacrifice that our Lord made for us and our salvation. Jesus will go to the cross on our behalf, making the ultimate sacrifice of his life for us. Jesus will take our sin to the grave so that we might live freed of our bondage to sin. But before we get to his ultimate sacrifice, we reflect on the sacrifices he made at the last meal he shared with his disciples. Our gospel passage retells how Jesus humbled himself before his disciples, taking on the form of a servant willing to wash their feet. Jesus sacrificed his status as the leader of his disciples so that he might teach them the important of service and humility. He could have easily commanded one of his disciples to wash the feet of another disciple in order to illustrate his lesson. He could have said, “Matthew, get down and wash Peter’s feet because to teach the others about service and humility.” No, Jesus humbled himself to teach his lesson. Jesus sacrificed whatever status or entitlement he deserved to teach us how we are to love one another.
Of course, the whole meal took place in an environment of sacrifice. Right at the start of the gospel reading, we heard that Jesus gathered his disciples before the festival of the Passover. The lectionary reminds us what happened on the Passover with passage from Exodus. God commanded the Israelites to make sacrifices and use the blood as a sign of their faithfulness for when God passed judgment on the Egyptians. The sacrifices were sacrifices of love. They showed God the love and honor the Israelites had for God. Like us, they were compelled into sacrificial action out of love for our God.
Like those faithful Israelites, David was also compelled by love into sacrificial action for God. As he sang, “I love the Lord, who has heard my voice.” He goes on to wrestle with how to act on this love: “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things God has done for me? I will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people.” David was compelled to “lift,” “call,” and “fulfill,” all actions that entailed some degree of sacrifice on his part. His love for God compelled him to sacrifice. OUR love compels us to make sacrifices for our God. The form of our sacrifices is unique to each of us. None of us make the same sacrifice to our God. This is because we love our God uniquely, just as we are each uniquely loved by God. The sacrifices that come out of such love are just as unique.
As we gather on the eve of the three holy days, let us continue searching the mind of Christ. Our Lenten journey has helped us get a better understanding of Jesus’ thoughts and actions. In the end, Jesus’ own actions teach us the most about God’s love. God loved us so very much that he was willing to go to the cross for us. Jesus endured the agony of the cross so that we might be freed from our bondage to sin. God’s love for us compelled Him into sacrificial action. To gain any sense of understanding of God’s thoughts and ways, we must try to imitate them. We must obey Jesus’ new commandment to love one another. Not how we think we should love each but rather how Jesus loved us. Jesus sacrificed out of love for us. Let us sacrifice out of love for each other. For when we sacrifice, when we sacrificially love, it is then and only then that we truly understand the thoughts and ways of God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.