Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 18, 2019
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Luke 22: 14-22
I was struck this week by the fact that every time I read the accounts of Jesus’ final hours with his disciples, I am more and more amazed by what transpired that night. To be honest, what I’m really most amazed by is all that Jesus said and did that night with his betrayer there in the room with them.
As we all know, our culture is very divided. I’m not really sure that it hasn’t always been so divided, but I think we handle it differently now than we used to. We stoke the division from behind the perceived safety of a computer screen. Rather than gathering with those who differ from us to discuss, debate, listen, and persuade, we sit down at our keyboards, login to social media, and start attacking those people who think differently from us; whom we perceive to be our enemies.
When you think about how we handle (or don’t handle) our differences these days, it’s so incredibly striking to consider Jesus’ words and actions as he gathered for one last time with his disciples, knowing what Judas would do to him. John tells us that Judas had already been provoked to betray Jesus. Yet, Jesus didn’t force Judas from the room. If Jesus had told Judas to leave, then Jesus could have enjoyed his final meal with the other disciples, perhaps even taking a little time to commiserate about Judas’ epic fail in the face of temptation. But Jesus never asked Judas to leave. Instead, Jesus “got up from the table, and took off his robes.” He picked up a linen towel, tied it around his waist, and poured water into a wash basin. Then, one by one, he went around the table, kneeling before each of his disciples in turn to wash their dusty, dirt-stained feet. Knowing that Peter would deny him not once, but three times, Jesus knelt and washed his feet. Fully aware that Judas would leave that table and go straight to the authorities to turn him in, Jesus knelt and washed Judas’ feet anyway, as if he were the servant of a king. When he is finished, Jesus stood, put his robes back on, looked each of the disciples in the eye and told them to do just as he has done.
That night, Jesus went on to teach the disciples once again about love. He told them he was giving them a new commandment. We might think of it as a new rule of life, the only one that really matters. I think this is the only commandment that Jesus really cares to see us follow. It goes like this, “Love each other. (Period.) Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.” Jesus was calling his disciples to the same self-sacrificial love that he had shown when he knelt to wash the disciples’ feet, and that he would show in its fullest measure when he hung on the cross. And what I want each of us to hear and know this evening is that Jesus didn’t put any conditions on that command to love one another; nor did he show any himself. Jesus really means for us to love all people and to serve all people as if they are royalty and we are lowly servants. There are no qualifications here. That fact is critical to this story of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to only love each other, or to only love the ones that are faithful to him, or to only love the ones who aren’t betrayers or sinners. We are simply to love and to serve, no matter what. Are we so willing to offer our love, our service, to someone we know is going to just turn around and stab us in the back? Not in his words, but by his actions, Jesus tells us we should be.
Because not only did Jesus wash the feet of all his disciples, he also served them a final meal. The Lord’s Supper, we call it. When Jesus took the bread and the cup and shared it among his disciples, he said, “This is for you.” To each disciple he offered bread and wine. Some accounts of this Last Supper indicate it was the very moment when Jesus gave Judas the bread that Judas’ heart was hardened completely. In other words, Judas made up his mind to betray Jesus in the same moment that Jesus offered this simple gesture of kindness and friendship. And still, Jesus gives.
That’s why this meal is so important, and why we share in the Lord’s Supper tonight. This meal is a reminder that Jesus has given everything for us. Not because we deserve it. Not because we have earned it. Not even because we are worthy of it. In our broken, fallen, sinful state, Jesus reaches out with a piece of bread and says, “Remember this. I have given myself for you. I love you.”
But let us also remember this, the greater calling of this night. In the same way that Jesus loves us, so are we to love others.
Let us remember.