* a reflection given at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on April 2, 2015 *
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-38
As a kid, my favorite worship service of the whole year was Maundy Thursday. Frankly, in a lot of ways, it still is. See, I’ve always found the whole idea of Communion really, really compelling. In churchy language, we would say that I have a high sacramental theology. Even before I really even knew what was going on, I remember being given a piece of bread and a sip of wine and hearing that there was something that Christ did for me, and that somehow these two things were connected, and I can remember thinking, “What a really strange, and really nice thought.”
As I grew older and began to understand a little more, learned more about Lutheran theology, about the idea of the presence of Christ being “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, was introduced to the idea of communing with Christ in the Eucharist, became aware of the idea that communion feeds us and fills us up so that we are then, in turn, sent out to feed and serve the world, well, I just became more and more enamored with Communion. And for me, growing up, I loved that Maundy Thursday was the day that we focused explicitly on the Last Supper, on the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples.
And it makes me wonder if I was even paying attention.
You may have noticed that our Gospel for today isn’t about the Last Supper itself at all. And it never is. The appointed Gospel for Maundy Thursday in the Lectionary is always this account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Always.
It struck me as curious, and is one of the things that I’ve been thinking on for the past couple of weeks.
But maybe its not that curious… After all, we remember the meal Jesus ate with his disciples every Sunday. We remind ourselves weekly of the saving work of God through the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. We hear every week that God, in Christ, is for us.
And it makes me wonder if we don’t remember our Bible story today often enough. Today, we hear about this humble act of servitude—Jesus humbling himself to show the disciples how they also should be in the world. And we would do well to remember this act and this story of humble service to each other.
Sure, we retell it once a year, and we’ll even get down on our knees and wash each other’s feet in just a minute, but what if we adopted a posture of servanthood in our lives every…single…day?
“Servant leadership” is a phrase that gets used to talk about pastoral ministry quite often. And I’ve been blessed in my life to see this modeled exceptionally well by those people that I consider to be mentors to me. And I can’t think of a better way to describe how I hope to be in the world—the posture I hope to walk with.
Did you know that the ministry staff prays for you? At least every week. We give thanks to God for all the people that God has given into our care. We rejoice with you in your moments of happiness. We are sad with you during your times of distress. It’s not hyperbole to say that we love you. Deeply.
And it calls to mind two short snippets from our reading today. In talking about the disciples, the author of John writes of Jesus, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” And later, right before the mandatum novum—the new commandment that Jesus gives to the disciples—he says, “Little children, I am with you only a little while longer…” Truly these are some of the most beautiful words of scripture.
Jesus really, truly loved these people that gave up everything to follow and learn from him. Jesus was their rabbi and teacher, true, but he cared for them and loved them so deeply. Which is partly what is difficult about Jesus’s words after he washed the disciples’ feet, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
And I don’t think Jesus was just talking about washing each other’s feet. We talk a lot about patterning our lives after Jesus, and I think that’s a great thing. But it falls flat if we just think Jesus is a nice example. See, if we’re serious about emulating Jesus, we must not forget what’s coming tomorrow. If we are truly following and striving to be Christ-like to others, or as Luther would say, “being little Christs” in the world, we must be willing to lay down our lives.
We must know that this way of Jesus leads to the cross.
Little children, our feet are about to be washed; we are about to be fed; and then we will be sent out to give up our lives, to serve the world as we have been served.