Vicar Emily Beckering; Maundy Thursday; texts: John 13:1-17, 31b-34; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
In tonight’s gospel, and in our own journey through Holy Week, we are nearing the end. We are drawing closer to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In these last hours, Jesus works intently to show and form his disciple by his love. Through everything that happens in tonight’s gospel, and through everything in our liturgy this evening, Christ is pouring out his love for us and for the world.
Christ pours this love out in water, Word, bread and wine.
Jesus first pours this love out upon his disciples by washing their feet. Their master and teacher is now the one who kneels before them. They do not know what he has done to them, or will do for them, nor will they until his resurrection. He is not only cleaning their feet, or even reversing their roles, but rather expressing his deep love for them; it is a tangible experience of that love for them to cling to in the days ahead that will stir up doubt and fear. As he pours the water out over their feet, he pours out his love over them. In doing so, he shows them the love that he will ultimately pour out on the cross.
He also points to this love as he pours the wine and breaks the bread. In this same night in which he will be betrayed, as we hear from Paul, our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, saying, “This is my body for you.” And he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
This evening, in these same Words, water, and wine, Christ pours out his love upon us as he did for the disciples. Jesus is also the one at our feet. When we watch the water being poured out over our sisters’ and brothers’ feet later this evening, we see Christ’s love.
When we dip our fingers into the font, the water which made us God’s own and united us with Christ’s death and resurrection, we touch Christ’s love. By this water, we too have been washed clean.
Through the absolution given to us at the beginning of worship, we heard Christ’s love saying, “I forgive you all of your sins.”
These same words are given to us tonight at the table. When we watch the wine poured out, drink it, and eat the bread, we are fed by Christ’s love. With, in, and under the bread and wine, Christ says to us, “Out of the deep, unfailing love with which I love you, I promise the forgiveness of all your sins and eternal life.”
It is as if through all of this, the Triune God is saying to us, “are you beginning to see how much I love you?”
If we are just beginning to see, then we see the full extent of Jesus’ love by his death on the cross, where he literally empties himself, pouring himself out for the sake of love.
As such, Jesus Christ is the Triune God’s love poured out, wholly and completely for all.
This is how we know what love is: that Christ laid down his life for us. In him, we see God’s aching passion for the world, God’s desire to be united with us, and the lengths that God was willing to go to make that relationship possible and to show us the depth with which we are loved. God the Son would rather die than lose us to disobedience, distrust, or fear of death. By his death and resurrection, he has conquered sin, death, and everything that would otherwise prevent us from loving God or one another so that we need not fear anything; anything that we could lose—even our life itself—has already ultimately been won.
This is also how we know who God is: that Christ laid down his life for us. In him, we know for sure that God is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. The Triune God did not choose to be revealed through legions of angels, through earthquakes, wind, or fire but through the silence of a tomb entered because he loved us to the point of death while we were still sinners. God did not deal with this sin and brokenness by punishing us, abandoning or giving up on us, or destroying us, but by taking it all on through Christ and offering us forgiveness, relationship, and everlasting life. Even in the night in which he was betrayed, he gives himself fully to his betrayer.
We see God’s full intention in Christ—the one who was born that all might know God’s love, died that no one be separated from it, rose again that we might have life in his name, prayed for us in the garden of Gethsemane before we were born, and comes to us tonight in the bread and wine so that we might trust that all of these promises are for us—we have been loved since the very beginning and that love will never waiver.
Now that we know that we are his own and loved to the end, we are given a new commandment: to love as Christ has loved us.
Now we become Christ’s love poured out.
Through the love with which he loves us, Christ unites us at his table. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, Christ makes us into his actual body and blood. As his body, we will live, love, and die like Christ. As his blood, we will be poured out where God’s love is needed. God will place our neighbor’s feet into our hands and ours into our neighbor’s. This is not done figuratively, but in real and profound ways.
Just as washing the twelve’s feet is physical expression of the love that Jesus will pour out for them on the cross, the disciples are to wash one another’s feet as way to act out laying down their lives for one another. It is a practice meant to train their hearts, minds, and bodies to love one another, first in humble service, and then by giving of themselves for each another.
In the same way, we know that the washing of feet once a year is not the fulfillment of Christ’s command, but we do this to train our hearts, minds, and bodies in the posture of giving of ourselves to care for, support, and love one another.
We do the same when we pass Christ’s peace, so that we learn to live our whole lives sharing Christ’s peace with others through words, service, and presence. We share the peace intentionally before we go to the table so that we make a habit of seeking and offering forgiveness and reconciling relationships in order to prepare for Christ to make us into the one body, without divisions.
In all of this—the washing of feet, the passing of peace, the breaking of bread, consoling one another—the Holy Spirit forms us to love one another as Christ. All of these actions are an acting-out beforehand, an internalization of the new commandment so that this love becomes so much a part of us that when the occasion arises to lay down our lives for one another, we do it without hesitation.
We know that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome strangers, and visit the sick and imprisoned—and we do do this, with grateful hearts. But the new commandment that we are given to love one another as Christ has loved us pushes us even further: to love so fiercely that we let go, lose, forgive, die.
This call often comes at the most inconvenient times; the Holy Spirit has a way of putting people on our hearts. When we find ourselves resisting these nudgings, dragging our feet, avoiding—whenever we find ourselves asking, “Lord, let this cup pass from me,”—these moments are when we need to pay the most attention because it is to these places of difficulty and death that we are sent. These are the places where Christ’s love is most needed.
But we are also promised that the Holy Spirit will keep working in us until we become so secure in Christ’s love that we no longer fear death…until we trust that in dying, the Triune God will bring new life: restored relationships, forgiveness, hope, and Christ’s love will show forth. Just as we know who God is through Christ’s love, the world will know Christ through our love. As often as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. As often as we give of ourselves for one another and for the world, then we proclaim the Lord’s love until he comes.
This day, this week, this whole life—even the new commandment that we are given—is an outpouring of God’s love. All that the Triune God has done through Christ has been done in that love, poured out in water, in wine and bread, in Word, in death, and now through us, in order that all may know that they are Christ’s own, loved without end. We were made and saved in love, by love, for love. That love was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.