Maundy Thursday Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 78:14-25, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-15 or Luke 22:14-30
This is the night Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to suffer and die. This is the night the armed men came to take him away who had only done good. This is the night the creator of all things was betrayed by those who owed him their worship and obedience.
How curious that it should be on the night when he celebrated the Passover with his friends. This festival is a day of sacrifice which remembers how God saved his people from the perpetual misery of slavery, smiting their captors and leading them out into a land of promise. It is the liberation of a people, freed to live according to God’s ways, and bear witness to his salvation to all the nations, such that God may be known and obeyed through all the world, to the end that all people may enjoy the restful presence and blessing of God for all eternity.
In a celebration and remembrance of their freedom, these friends of Jesus gather and hear a new lesson.
Love one-another, just as I have loved you, so you are to love one-another. He shows them what this means when he takes off the finery of his outer garment, and on hands and feet washes the feet of those who follow him. This is how he loves us, he takes the lowest place, and does what in the glory of his holiness we think he ought not do. He cleanses the unclean, and embraces that part of us which we would rather keep covered. He does not expose our weakness to shame us, but rather to tend to it. To minister, not to mock.
Tonight will be known for evermore as a new kind of Passover. It is the night the people of God leave behind their old ways of darkness and confusion, and being led not by a burning pillar but the humble Son of God they will cross over into the promised Kingdom, no longer in a physical place but now everywhere and available to anyone. And the law of that kingdom is the law of love, and we will be taught this love by the Carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
Only this isn’t how the story goes from here, is it.
Because this is night the King of Love is betrayed by his friends.
Following Judas, the disciples will walk away, or deny, or stand silently as their Master and Friend is tried, tortured and executed. The future he so wonderfully invited his followers into, is trampled by the brutal facts of the world as-it-is. An immovable Roman empire and a religious and ideological hegemony unwilling or unable to yield.
What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.
After Jesus is betrayed, will we then understand? This pious sentiment which gave a flicker of a spark but was ultimately futile in the fight against evil?
This washing of the feet is a very good example to us, and wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all behaved accordingly.
But this is not the only gift Jesus gives to his Church on the night before he was betrayed.
On this night we celebrate that Jesus gave to his people the supper of his Body and Blood. In this sacrament Jesus does more than give an example to follow. For we see that following an example will never us, not from ourselves and not from the condemnation we deserve. Rather Jesus is going to give up his body as an offering for our sins, and by the shedding of his blood will a new covenant between God and his people be made. And in that covenant we are given heats that are living and not dead, and a new spirit, God’s own presence, which will make us to become like Jesus in a way we could never have attained in our own strength.
Indeed this sacred meal which Jesus gives to the church on this night is none other than the means which we are given to be assured always that he is with us, and has not rejected us.
But on this night before Jesus is betrayed none of this can be understood. But afterward we will understand.
After his resurrection Jesus will meet his friends again and he will sit and eat with them. This is the meal that reconciles enemies and returns the wanderer home. And this is our gift until the day Jesus returns again. Though we are unable to love as he loved, he will not abandon us, but each and every time we gather around his table, and yes even now as we do so not in physical proximity, he will give to us that which we lack. He will fill us with his own life even as bread and wine fills our bodies.
And though like his first disciples we are fickle and faithless, he is faithful to bring about in us the work he intends, leading us to a blessed kingdom where our love will be perfected, even as he has perfectly loved us.