(Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
(watch here: http://youtu.be/mrPiFHzrRxg)
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. 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.
31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “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.”
At first glance, the readings assigned for today appear to be quite dissimilar and this has led to great confusion over the years. The first reading from Exodus describes the Jewish celebration of the Passover meal while the second and gospel readings describe the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Which are we called to celebrate this evening: Passover or the Last Supper? If we were Jewish, we’d be celebrating the Passover but since we’re Christians then we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. However, because Jesus WAS a Jew and celebrating the Passover meal at the last supper he shared with his disciples, we lift up BOTH events. We will return to why the church has declared today “Maundy Thursday” a little later on.
As we heard in the first reading, the Passover meal commemorates a time when the Lord came to Moses and Aaron and told them to instruct the enslaved Israelites how to avoid God’s wrath. The people were to kill an unblemished 1-year-old male lamb on a certain time at a certain time and eat it in a certain way. They were to take some of the lamb’s blood and smear it on the outside of their home’s doorframe. As the Lord passed through Egypt and killed the firstborn humans and animals, He passed over the homes with the blood-stained doorframes. Many years later, Jesus had gathered his disciples together to honor this merciful event. He took the sacrifice one step further and declared himself the sacrificial lamb. Jesus was aware of his impending arrest and crucifixion and likened his death to those of all the lambs slaughtered by the Israelites that evening. Jesus WAS the unblemished lamb! Jesus was slaughtered so that God’s wrath might pass over ALL of humanity, not just the Israelites.
Both the Passover meal and the Last supper involved sacrifices. What is a sacrifice? A quick look in a dictionary reveals the definition, “a loss or something you give up, usually for the sake of a better cause or for something better.” In both meals, lives are given up for the sake of a better cause, for something better. Neither the Passover lambs nor Jesus WANTED to give up their lives but they did it for a better cause. Their sacrifices brought the Israelites and us back into right relationship with God. There is no greater cause than this! To be in right relationship with God…to fear God…to love God and be loved by God…there is no greater cause than this in our world! When we are in right relationship with God, our lives are greatly improved and we get far more satisfaction out of life. When God is with us, there is nothing we can’t accomplish! Being in right relationship with God is the single most important accomplishment in life! God wants only the best for each of us and will move mountains for us if we but love and trust and fear Him!
Underlying a sacrifice is the act of giving a gift. The Israelites gave their gifts to God to save their firstborn children and animals. Yes, not the most selfless acts of giving. They gave purely out of selfishness for the lives of their children and animals. And we hear in today’s Psalm that David was no stranger to giving out of selfishness. He sang, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” BECAUSE God gave to David, David gave back to God “a thanksgiving sacrifice.” How often do we fall prey to similar thinking? We give because God gives to us? Shouldn’t we give selflessly, without expectation of repayment? Yes, we should but often we fail to give selflessly and without expectation.
Even when we do give to God, we give the bare minimum of ourselves. A poem is helpful in revealing our tendencies to give God the least of ourselves. It reads,
Leftovers are such humble things,
We would not serve to a guest,
And yet we serve them to our Lord
Who deserve the very best.
We give to Him leftover time,
Stray minutes here and there.
Leftover cash we give to Him,
Such few coins as we can spare.
We give our youth unto the world,
To hatred, lust and strife;
Then in declining years we give
To him the remnant of our life.
Isn’t this all too often true? We give God our leftovers, the stuff we wouldn’t even serve to our guests. A few thoughts here, a few coins there. We burn through our lives giving God so very little along the way. It’s only when we hit obstacles along the way that we ask for God’s help. It’s only when we feel alone, abandoned, sick, and despairing that we decide to finally give God our attentions. We foolishly get angry at God for allowing us fall into times of abandonment and despair. When we’re done being angry, we plead our cases for salvation. We give the “remnants of our lives” and beg for mercy. But this is all fruitless thinking and behavior. God walks with us each and every day of our lives. God never abandons us and continually shows us mercy along the way. God will work to show mercy even in times of despair.
Jesus gave us an alternate way of giving than the way of the Israelites and David. Jesus gave us truly selfless giving. In the days ahead we will remember how he gave the most selfless gift of all—his life for our sins. But he also gave us another selfless gift as we heard in our gospel reading. So why did the church name this day “Maundy Thursday?” The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word maundatum for “commandment.” We heard Jesus give a new commandment at his Last Supper—to love one another. Just as he loves us, we also should love one another. Jesus went to the cross as an act of love. His love for us was a truly selfless gift. Yes, it was a sacrifice that served a better cause of bringing us in right relationship with God. But it was equally important as an act of love. Jesus died for us! Tomorrow we will again remember his death. It takes an unusually strong conviction to compel a person to die for someone else. The strong conviction for Jesus was love. Jesus loved us so much he was willing to die for us! The Father loved us so much he was willing to send His Son to die for us! GOD LOVES US!
Jesus’ command for us to love each other is a gift. It helps us to live in better relationships with each other. In the next few days, let us try to not only remember the gift of Jesus’ life but also the gift of his commandment to love each other. The world needs more love! God uses us to share His love. Let us go forth and boldly share in God’s love!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.