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Maunday Thursday B Sermon
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

April 1, 2021

Sermon Archives


John 13:1-17

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ final night with his disciples is mostly about words. This night is described from chapter thirteen through chapter seventeen. Five long chapters, mostly consisting of Jesus doing all of the talking. There is even a name for it - the farewell discourse. Sometimes a discourse is one side of an ongoing debate. Other times it is a lecture. A discourse can also be a sermon. The discourse in these five chapters of John’s Gospel is part teaching, part preaching, and part prayer. But it doesn’t start with words. On the contrary, this night of Jesus’ betrayal begins with action. It begins with the quiet, self-emptying action of washing the feet of the people who have called him Rabbi and Lord for the past three years.

Imagine the one who’s name is above every other name, at who’s name every knee shall bend, bowing down in front of you, taking off your footwear, pouring water over your dusty feet and wiping them clean. This was servant’s work, not work for Rabbis, Lords or Priests. And yet before he speaks a word to them to teach them how to live without him in their presence, he acts. It is possibly the most powerful story in all of scripture. It frames all that Jesus will say in the chapters that follow.

It is interesting that we edit out verses 18-30 from John 13 in our reading today. I suppose it is for brevity’s sake, but we miss the story of Jesus identifying Judas as his betrayer and Judas leaving the gathering under the cover of night to betray him. It was pointed out to me this week that if we fast forward to the hours following this final discourse, after Jesus has been arrested, one of the first things that happens is that Peter denies being a follower of Jesus. He even denies knowing him. We have Judas, the betrayer, and Peter, the denier, and sandwiched in between are these words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Jesus has loved them perfectly, more than perfectly, Jesus loved them with divine love. It is one thing to wash the feet of someone you love - a parent or spouse; it is another thing to bend before the one who will lead a cohort of soldiers to take you into custody and nail you to a cross. It is one thing to wash the feet of your children, or a good friend; it is another thing to kneel in front of someone who will say that they never saw you before in order to save their own life. This story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples isn’t a feel-good tale of a really good person. It is the gospel, the good news of God’s love for all of humanity. It is powerful.

Jesus is about to teach the disciples about the way to the Father, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Vine, peace. He will pray for his disciples to be one and to make his name known to the world. And before he does this, he takes the form of a humble servant and shows them the way that they are to live - not only for the most loveable of the world, but for the least loveable. In my conversations with teenagers in catechism, Sunday school, youth group, or just talking is that every one of them remembers a time when someone that they really liked and trusted betrayed them. Junior and senior high schools are little fishbowls where nothing is secret, and it doesn’t take much for stories to spread. We all have things that we would rather not have known. We all have things that we want to be able to confide in someone trusted. We all feel betrayed when that trust is broken, and others learn our secrets. I remember hearing in the voices of these young people how much that hurt them when it happened. It was worse than any kind of physical wound they had experienced. Sticks and stones may break our bones … but names and rumors and secrets can leave permanent scars!

Jesus knelt before all of these disciples. He knelt before the disciple that he loved - maybe that was John, or even James his brother. He knelt before the ones who quietly walked with him, listening to every word he had to say. He knelt before the ones who saw him raise a man from the dead and cure many other diseases. He also knelt before the scoundrels … and they were all scoundrels, as are we. During the reading of the Gospel, you viewed a number of artists’ renditions of the scene. Some were older and more traditional, others newer or from other cultures.

You are now looking at a wonderful piece of art, created by German artist Sieger Koder. Koder was born in 1925 and was a frontline soldier for the German army in WWII. He was captured in France in 1944 and spent two years in a POW camp. After the war and his release, he attended art schools before becoming an artist and art teacher, all the while attending to theological studies.

In 1971 he was ordained a priest and began a twenty-year career as a parish priest, during which he was a prolific artist. He considered his paintings as parables, sharing scenes from scripture that were influenced by his experiences in war during the Nazi and Holocaust years. He often portrayed Jesus as a fellow viewer within the picture, inviting us to see things the way he does. In the work that you see now, we cannot help but experience the sacredness of this moment of service. There is some drama in the encounter as Peter raises his hand in protest, but Jesus is vulnerable, bowing low and embracing Peter around the waist. You might have to look close to see Jesus’ face - it is only visible as a reflection on the surface of that basin of dirty water he is using to wash these feet.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. That is the new commandment that Jesus shared in his farewell discourse with his disciples, and that we remember every year on this day. But this new commandment only comes after action - the humble, vulnerable action of the divine servant of all. We yearn to see the face of Jesus in our everyday lives. Today we are reminded that it is in service to others that we see the face of Christ. Amen.