Maundy Thursday Homily, 1st April 2021.
John 13:1-17 and also Mark 14:32-42
Bowl. Water, towel,
in among them…’
He takes off his outer garments, takes up the towel, the water and he washes. It is moving, powerful, especially as he knew how the hour has come. You would consider he would be saving all he had for what would come in the following hours – but here he gives…
Did he do it as a teaching opportunity – one he seized as he saw no servant, and not one of the disciples had offered to do it? It can be seen as that – if we think of his words: ‘’You should do as I have done for you.’’ – an acted teaching.
Did he do it out of pure beautiful love – as he went along and washed each foot of those who had walked with him those many days and many kilometers over the past three years. John says – one of those whose feet were washed that night – ‘’having loved his own’’. Did Jesus see the feet? Tired, smelly, hardened and he knew the refreshment that the water would bring to the ones, the friends, he loved?
Does service of others just come out of a love for the ones we serve?
As he takes off his garments, takes up the towel, he knows who he was:
‘’Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal…’’ He knew his great origins, his power, his authority, his destiny, his security – he knew who he was in the Father’s eyes. He had not lost sight of that fact, from his baptism, and before, til this moment in the upper room.
Service out of security. Ministry, Christian acts – are not done to earn merit with God – or with others. As we know the Father’s heart to us, knowing we secure, accepted, significant, loved – how that can free us, we do not care what others think, we do not feel their rebuke, we know who we are known by – and that ONE’S FAVOR is much more to have….
When he comes to Peter – and Peter refuses – it reminds me of trying to get a child to have a bath –‘’you shall never wash my feet’! Jesus says: ‘’Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’’ Like in many places in John, there is a second layer of meaning Jesus points to. To have part with him, means to let him wash us, to let him serve us.
‘To let him wash us’. It points to the cross. It is a symbolic representation of the cleansing of them by his sacrificial death on the cross. Like a diamond – when a light hits – we see variety of color, this is another way that Jesus gives them to see the cross. It is a cross he has predicted three times before Palm Sunday, that he will be arrested, suffer and die and be raised. That as, they see the events of his passion, they – his followers – already know of the resurrection and that the Lord remains in control.
In this mealtime he gives them further understanding.
Later, another picture for them, another help to remember this supreme act of service. He will institute the Lord’s supper – and he will say – this broken bread is my body, this wine in the cup is my blood. They were prophetic gestures. The actions anticipated his death – but also he gives them a way to understand its deepest meaning. As the Passover will have a Lamb killed – He is the Lamb of God. As they remember God’s past actions, deliverance and remember salvation, Jesus actions – his actions, his body broken, his blood shed will bring them salvation. .
Yet John records only Water, towel, cleansing. Before on the road to the city, the disciples had argued ‘’who is the greatest,’’. Jesus says: ‘’Whoever wants to become great among you, must become your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many.’’
He takes off his outer garments – like a slave – and takes up a towel. To serve. He chooses to. He meets their need. They see him as a Servant King. The one who serves them, to cleanse them by the giving up of his life as a ransom, ransom – the price in those days, paid to set free a slave.
As Jesus dresses as a slave, as he does the duty of a slave, he points to how he will serve them through his substitutionary death – so they – who are the slaves to sin – can be free.
He is choosing to do this, is shown in the words John record. Take off outer garments, take up the towel – these are the same words in John 10, when Jesus says: I lay down my life, only to take it up again.
This night, salvation is declared, the new covenant revealed, the body and blood is God’s plan, and he desires to bring order and beauty out of chaos, a new creation to come.
And we see Christ the servant king, who acts out of love, knowing who he is, yet will be a servant, to cleanse.
It strikes me. The devil has prompted Judas to betray Jesus. The devil has used his power. To steal, kill and destroy as we will see – not only destruction that comes upon Jesus, pain into the lives of many and the death of Judas. As we heard: ‘’Jesus knew the Father had put all things under his power.’’ Jesus chooses to use his power, to serve, to bring life and all its fullness.
The water remains. In that room. A reminder. As he has served. So he asks us to serve. To do it out of love. To meet needs. To do it secure in the Father’s love. It is easy to serve when it is popular – even if hard – but when alone, it is hard, when no one sees, it is different. Remember the 12 were washed. Judas was there. But Satan gripped his heart. Yet Jesus loved him. We heard: ‘’Jesus knew who was going to betray him’’. But Jesus loved him still. Jesus washes his feet.
Service can mean we serve those we may not like. But God calls us to love.
As we mediate on the Garden of Gethsemane, it is a sober reminder. Of the cost of loving service.
Perhaps for us, the cross – Jesus suffering on it – has become a little familiar – but meditate on the Garden.
The cost. My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. What this would mean to him, to do this for you and I.
Abba Father, everything is possible for you. He remains in that secure relationship with the Father – he knows he is loved yet he is asked to do this great task.
Everything is possible for God, but this was the only way to do it.
Take this cup from me, but not what I will, but what you will.’’ To hear such words. Such honesty about the task. Never ever take for granted the cost and demands upon Jesus to serve you. And so he sets the model for serving.
Jesus is the model for humble acts of service – he says loving service is one way of showing love to each other and to others. He ends: ‘’Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’’
Lord, Jesus, Servant King.
Thank you that you laid down so much for me.
Give me grace to lay aside my pride and let you make me clean. Amen.
I want to say, that you may feel, in your life, you have never asked Jesus to serve you, to wash you, to cleanse you As we enter these three days when we consider the sacrifice of Jesus, a prayer you may desire to say or return to in the days ahead:
Lord Jesus Christ,
I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (we take some moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience). Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong.
Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free.
Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Holy Spirit. I now receive that gift.
Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit, to be with me forever.
Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer, do let someone know, as a starter, tell someone you know who will be pleased with your news…