The Disciples and Loving
I am so glad we are all here tonight because this is an important night in the worship life for Christians. Those who come to holy week services get something that others don’t seem to. You understand that these next three days at the very heart of our faith as people of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus giving his disciples the Lord’s Supper, his betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and appearing are the essence of our redemption.
Tonight begins these vital days. Maundy is the Latin word for “mandate”. From the word “mandate” comes our word “commandment.” On this night we remember the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples, to love one another as Christ has loved us.
On the Thursday night before he dies Jesus shares a meal with his disciples.
The disciples have this encounter with Jesus because they are celebrating the Jewish Passover. Matthew, Mark and Luke tells us of how he gave the bread and the cup to the disciples during that Passover meal. But John gives us something different. John tells us how Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.
It was common for guests in a house to have their feet washed by the servants of a house. Roads were often nothing but dirt. People wore sandals. Feet would easily get dirty. If a household wasn’t of the economic level to have servants then water and a towel would be provided for people to wash their own feet.
There are two parts to what Jesus does with his disciples on this night when he washes their feet. First, Jesus takes the position of the servant. He kneels in front of each disciple and does the work of a slave washing their feet one by one. This is how Jesus shows his disciples what he wants them to do. He gives an example. And then Jesus sits down and goes on to give them a new commandment:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s how people know we are disciples of Jesus. Our love for one another.
Love for one another is to be the badge of the Christian community. How easily we have turned the gospel into a weapon. Christians have sometimes beat one another up with it. Christians have decided to define “one another” in such a limited way that it means “love those who reinforce your own sense of who you are and who reinforce your own opinions and perspectives.” But that’s not what our Lord said. In fact, usually love is most practiced when we love those who don’t agree with us, who may not even like us.
On this night Jesus doesn’t just say the message he demonstrates the message by washing their feet.
We generally don’t wash one another’s feet in our culture. We have shoes, paved streets, vacuumed homes. But there are other ways we symbolically wash people’s feet. Anytime we serve someone else, anytime we humble ourselves and do the menial job out of love for someone, anytime we get down on our knees and stoop for someone else we are washing feet.
Whenever we buy groceries for someone who has little, drive someone to a doctor’s appointment, visit with someone who is lonely, clean or make a repair for someone who can’t do it, then we are washing feet and carrying out Jesus’ commandment.
We show the love of Christ when we serve one another, submit to others or forgive others. When we are patient with our children, spouse or fellow workers.
When we listen well in a conversation, extend hospitality to guests in our home, pay good attention to customers, students or colleagues.
When we support and care for the elderly parent.
Jesus wants us on our knees with a towel in our hand – literally if necessary, and certainly spiritually. He gives an example. And if our Lord did this then how can we not?
But there is also something else about what the Lord does to his disciples. There is the giving of love but there is also the receiving. The disciples have to receive what Jesus does for them. And that is difficult for them.
When Jesus came with the towel and basin to Simon Peter, Peter asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus told him, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
You will never wash my feet. Peter forbids Jesus to do this. He tells the Lord how it is going to be. “Lord, it’s never going to happen.” Peter is uncomfortable with this.
We might have responded exactly the same way as Peter. How can our Lord be the one serving us? We need to be doing this to him.
But do we really want to tell Jesus what he can and can’t do? Is it our place to tell our Lord how this relationship works? If Jesus wants to wash feet then Jesus can wash feet. Can’t he?
In the disciples’ encounter with him on this night, there is not only the lesson of giving love, but also of receiving it. There are two parts to love: giving and receiving.
Is it hard to receive? Is it hard to receive love? To receive tenderness? To receive compassion? It can be.
Maybe it’s hard because receiving makes us vulnerable. Or maybe it is because we are not in control. And I would rather be in control.
There is a certain passivity to receiving. It makes us dependent on someone else. We may not like feeling dependent. There is a certain prejudice against dependence in our society. We are taught to be independent, strong, do-for-yourself. People who climbed the mountain all on their own are praised and revered, although I don’t think anyone really does anything on their own. We all get boosts along the way. I know anything I have accomplished in my life has come with a lot of help.
Receiving can be hard because we don’t want to owe anyone. We would rather be the one serving and giving, instead of receiving.
Here’s the thing: in order to be loved we have to allow others to love us. It is true, too many people in our world are unloved. But I wonder how many people who feel unloved have not allowed themselves to receive love? I only wonder.
We put up walls, decoys, and buffers. We deflect by trying to be the givers. Yes, Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, but he never said it isn’t blessed to receive.
I wonder if the gospel can’t penetrate some hearts because it is something to be received and not achieved. We have this voice that seems to speak throughout the human race that our place with God is to be earned. We are to be worthy. We are to climb the ladder. We are to ascend.
And if we pray enough, if we are spiritual enough, if we are good enough, we can make it. Wash enough feet and God will smile.
Paul speaks of grace as the “free gift of God.” (Romans 6:23)
What if Jesus wants to give us the free gift? Can we handle it?
Can we handle that we don’t contribute a whit to our salvation? Can we handle that God had to come and die for us in his Son Jesus Christ in order for us to have peace with him? Can we handle that we can only trust in this free gift?
Have you ever heard, “Oh, no need to bother yourself.” “Don’t go to the trouble.” “You have enough on your plate. I will be fine.” Could it be that someone wants to bother themselves and go to trouble on our behalf? And can we handle it?
There can be pride in our serving others. It hides itself, but it can be there. Doing things for others makes us feel good about ourselves. That’s not necessarily bad but beware of serving others only for that reason. Love is selfless and serves for the love of the other.
Receiving can be an act of love just as much as giving.
To receive takes some humility. We aren’t in control. We are vulnerable.
We can be stubborn and like Peter say no one is going to wash my feet. If there is going to be any washing or receiving it will be on my terms.
But Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, unless I wash your feet you have no share with me.” “Unless I wash your feet you won’t belong to me. You can’t be part of what I am doing.” “You want a share with me, you will need to be a servant, to humble yourself, to wash feet.”
In order to have a share with Jesus, we need to accept what he gives us and what he wants to do for us. And he wants to give us more than we can measure.
What we are going to do tonight as we share Communion is to allow us to practice this love and humility that Jesus modeled for his disciples. We live in a time when self-importance and arrogance, ego and brashness, self-righteousness are on the loose. But followers of the Lord Jesus Christ seek to practice humility. We do it in the name of the One who humbled himself for us.
Communion is done in different ways in different churches. But one of the ways it is done is when we serve one another. That isn’t just for practical purposes. When we pass trays, or give bread and the cup to someone else we are serving one another.
The bread and the cup are pure gift. You don’t have to sign anything to receive it. You don’t have to be a member of this church to partake. The only thing a person needs is active faith – however great or small – in Jesus Christ as Lord. You have to believe and desire his grace.
The table reminds us of God’s deep, deep love for us. Can you just receive that? Can you sit with the fact that God loves us - wretches that we are, screw-ups infinitum - because he wants to?
I admit many days I find that hard to accept.
But here we only participate in what Jesus Christ has done for us.
Yes, there is something for us to do. Jesus gives the commandment to love one another, and to follow his example as washers of feet – servants of one another. This can happen in any number of ways as I’ve said.
But there is also something not for us to do. Mainly, just receive, so that we can have a part with Jesus.
Before we can love like Jesus, we have to know and experience the love of Jesus. And his love is not earned. We have to receive the goods before we can distribute them.
Read the words of our passage tonight from John 13: Jesus loved them to the end. He showed them the full extent of his love. He loved us all so much that he gave his life and took upon himself the full weight and blame of our sin.
Jesus has something for us. His body. His blood. His life. His grace. And because we have freely received such grace, we share this grace.
In this act of serving and receiving, and of sharing the bread and cup, we encounter Jesus ourselves. How will you encounter him now?
 Tom Wright, John For Everyone, Part 2, p.56