The Text: John 13
John chapter 13 is a popular reading with many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. There’s something heart-warming about a leader getting on his knees and serving his followers. The love that Jesus preaches tonight, that He enacted with His disciples, and that drove Him on to the cross, is made of quite different stuff than what the world defines and knows as love. In fact the love that Jesus preaches, enacts and suffers himself is so selfless that it cost him his own life.
Jesus had just been welcomed into Jerusalem to the shouts of the crowd. Expectations were running high. The opportunity for Him to spark a popular rebellion and topple the Roman authorities was very real. The chance for Him to reclaim the throne of Israel was before Him.
But what did He do? He gathered in an upstairs room and quietly gives his disciples bread and wine and declares that it is His true body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. And if that weren’t confusing enough, He then gets up and does the work of a slave. Humiliating Himself as He washes the feet of those who should be looking after Him.
But in this act of love, Jesus gives a clear indication as to the nature of His mission. It was not to be one of earthly glory and fame, but one of service and love. And in this lowly task of cleansing their feet, Jesus was pointing to a far greater cleansing about to be take place on the cross. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, his ultimate gift. Jesus humbles himself to death on the cross for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin.
Maundy Thursday helps us remember that Jesus overcomes the world, our sin and the Devil, not through an all-out offensive attack. But through love. A love that is actively at work. A love so deep and profound that it is unconcerned about humiliation. Unconcerned about other’s opinions. Unconcerned about expectations of power and victory and honour. This is the love that was hinted at in the humble act of washing the disciples’ feet, but was finally poured out for all to see on the cross. A love so deep and so astonishing, that it still causes offence even among Christians.
How many of us want to picture Jesus slaying the devil in a mighty battle? How many of us want to see Jesus punishing those who are the worst of sinners? How many of us want to see Jesus take control? But He doesn’t do these things. Instead He kneels down before His disciples and lovingly washes their feet – even the feet of the one who is about to betray Him.
Jesus loves you and me in the same way. It is the same love that has washed over us in holy baptism. That simple act that connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. That simple act that continues to cleanse us right through to the core. It is the same love that speaks tenderly to us as we hear those golden words –your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. It is the same love that is placed in our very mouths as Jesus’ body and blood is given for our forgiveness and life. As Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples, He revealed how He would continue to serve us until we are called home.
The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service. And Jesus makes it clear that as we have been loved and served by Him, so we are to love one another. His example is a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, and the lost. It’s a compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do.
What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? “We love because he first loved us”. His gift of love calls us to repentance, it forgives us – even when we’ve failed to love as we should, and it draws us to follow him and love others as he did, to the end.
Now some of you might be disappointed tonight because you figure you’ve heard it all before. But this is no small matter for those of us who call Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Jesus considered it a big enough deal to die for. And so we are called to love – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – so that our life together may be a beacon of hope to this lost world. We are called to leave behind all attempts to have power and control and to seek the way of love and mercy and service. We are called to live out our faith in real, practical and down to earth ways – and mark my words – the unbelieving world is watching.
There is no greater scandal among God’s people than when we fight and lack love for one another. And there is nothing more powerful in bringing people to Jesus than when Christians follow His example and love as He has called us to. One of the early church fathers noted that unbelievers became fascinated with the Christian faith not because Christians appeared so holy, but because of the way they loved each other. It was written that “despite periods of harsh persecution, the witness of generations of Christians living the “new commandment” of Jesus to “love one another,” helped the church to grow and spread across the Roman empire, and led some to proclaim, perhaps with disbelief, “see how they love one another.”
People often show their faith by wearing crosses around their necks. Others post confessions of faith on social media, say grace before meals and refusing to blaspheme. Now as good as these things are in bearing witness to our faith, the only advertisement that Jesus calls us to tonight is to love one another. And in this simple act, inspired by His sin-consuming love, all people will know that we are His disciples. And His love will continue to change the world – one love drenched soul at a time. Amen.