Meditation on John 13: 1-17; 31b-35
The Presbyterian Church
Pastor Karen Crawford
Here is an audio file of my message:
For a video clip of the message and the full service, with Mark Wagner’s music, go to:
Thank you so much for joining with me for worship on Maundy Thursday. This is the first time we will be celebrating virtual communion—we are together, by the Spirit, but partaking separately, in our homes, with our families. It felt strange to me, at first, to consider presiding over virtual communion. But connecting back to my childhood, growing up in an interfaith family—Jewish and Christian—it feels strangely familiar to me to be here at my dining room table, remembering our merciful God of redemption and love who sent His Son to be the Lamb of God and take away the sin of the world.
Maundy Thursday doesn’t always fall on the same night as the first day of Passover, but it does this year. So, while we are remembering Christ’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room, his new commandment, and his showing his love by washing their feet, Jewish people around the world are celebrating around their dinner tables our merciful God of redemption and love revealed through the Exodus story, as I did with my father’s family, years ago.
Some of us are having trouble keeping track of time since our daily routine has been disrupted by the coronavirus. For some who aren’t leaving homes for work or those who are no longer working or gathering for worship on Sunday, every day may seem much the same. I heard the same prayer request this week in both our prayer fellowship group that meets by conference call and our confirmation class that meets by Zoom video conferencing— for this health crisis to soon be over and that we may get back to our “normal” lives, once again.
But one member from our prayer group then wondered aloud, “What will normal be?”
This is the question on the minds of the disciples in the upper room, when the act of eating and drinking together takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus’ suffering and death will lead to a new life, which is a frightening prospect for the 12 men who have lived and journeyed together with Jesus for 3 years, like a family unit. They have left behind their biological kin to follow Him, with the exception of the two sets of brothers—Peter and Andrew, James and John.
How will the disciples continue on after these things that Jesus has said will come to pass? As he will say in John 13:33, “Little 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.’”
Time is measured in a unique way in John’s gospel—by their nearness to the festival of the Passover and whether or not Jesus’ hour has come. John has reasons for doing this. Our scripture tonight begins with identifying the time of this gathering of Jesus with his disciples as “before the festival of the Passover.” This is different than in chapter 2, right before Jesus cleanses the temple and promises to raise up a new temple in 3 days and says the Passover is “near.” The Passover is “near” right before Jesus feeds the 5,000 in chapter 6:4-14. The Passover is “near” right before Jesus is anointed by Mary as a sign of his burial, an event that occurs “six days before the Passover” (11:55-12:8).
Thomas Long, a biblical scholar and writer, says, “For John, the naming of the Passover is not merely a reference to the liturgical calendar but an expression of his… conviction that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a fulfillment of the Passover,” when the faithful remember and give thanks to God for Israel’s “freedom from slavery, redemption, formation as a people, and feeding in the wilderness. John keeps saying, ‘The Passover’s coming!’”
Jesus has been saying that his hour had not yet come since his mother asked him to change water into a wine at a wedding in chapter 2. His hour had not yet come when he is protected from harm after speaking boldly to the treasury in the temple in 8:20.
We have been waiting for this moment since the beginning of the gospel, when John says in 1:10-13, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
And now, when Jesus knows that his hour has come to depart from this world and go to the Father, Christ is, of all things, washing the disciples’ feet. No one expects a foot washing, least of all his disciples. This is something that has never happened before with Jesus and his disciples and it only happens here in the gospel of John. It was as out of place for the disciples then as it would be now, if, as we are eating at a church potluck, someone decides to walk around the room with a basin of water and towel tied to their waist and offer to wash the feet of our congregation.
I can understand why Peter objects. This is an intimate act—washing someone’s feet. Foot-washing is common back then only for the wealthy and high-status people in society. Women and servants were frequently called upon to wash the feet of high-ranking men. So, going by the wisdom and practice of their world, if anything, the disciples should be washing Jesus’ feet. Right?
We understand Peter’s amazement and disbelief when he says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus tells him that although he doesn’t understand what he is doing now, he will later. This isn’t enough to convince Peter. “You will never wash my feet,” he says. But he is wrong, just as he will be when he insists that he will never deny him and be faithful till the end.
Peter allows Jesus to humbly serve him only when the Lord says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter, who will be the rock upon whom Christ will build his church, says then, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Friends, in a few moments, we will partake of Christ’s bread and cup at His table. His table is wherever you are. For it is by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit that we commune with Christ and one another, all the saints, in every time and place. This act of eating and drinking will help us remember what God has done for us and be grateful for our merciful and loving God of redemption. But communion is more than a ritual to remember; it is an opportunity for the Spirit to work in us, refresh and renew us and equip us so that we might be Christ’s Body for the world.
This is a God whose love may make us uncomfortable because of his intimate knowledge of us. Our human reaction to anyone wanting to know us as well as the Lord does is to run and hide. Some of you might be doing that now in your walk with God. You are holding back and not giving your whole heart.
Friends, we know our sin. We know that we have been unfaithful. We have fallen short of God’s glory. We are ashamed of our complaining and worrying, though God has been providing for all our needs every single day of our wilderness experience, just as the Israelites complained bitterly as they wandered in the wilderness of old, loved and cared for by the same God.
This is a God who is close enough to hear our thoughts and know every word we are going to say. And yes, a God who can wash not only our feet but cleanse and heal us body, mind, and soul. This is a God who doesn’t push his will on us, but instead invites us to accept and receive Him and believe in His name. For the promise is that when we do, we become His children.
This is a God, the only true God, with whom we can and should allow ourselves to be vulnerable. For as he tells Peter, this is the only way we can have a share with him in glory.
Friends, I invite you to welcome into your hearts and lives the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for sending Jesus to be our Lamb and wash us clean of our sins, to be the fulfillment of the Passover with his death and resurrection. Stir us, Lord, to accept and receive you and believe in your name so that we may be called Children of God. Help us all to live out our faith during this time of separation, without grumbling or complaint. Empower us to love and forgive one another as Christ has always loved and forgiven us, so that all the world will know that we belong to Him. In His name we pray, Amen.