A Maundy Thursday Meditation
Pastor Tom Sorenson
March 28, 2002
"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." That's what he said. What did he mean? "Just as I have loved you?" Just how did he love them? Just how does he love us? Well, the Gospels are full of accounts of ways in which he loved us. The most important, of course, is that he died and rose again to give us eternal life. But let's look at that act and what Jesus says about it a bit more closely for what it tells us about how he loved us.
Jesus in this story, as everywhere in the Gospel of John, represents the presence of God in the world, the Word of God made flesh. Here, he assumes the role of a servant. Washing of feet was a common duty for a menial, a servant, in that world where people wore sandals and walked in the dust all day. So, the story tells us, to love one another as Jesus loved the disciples is to become a servant, to serve one another in whatever way is required, to be willing to do the menial, dirty jobs for each other.
Have you ever known anyone who is always willing to do that, but is nonetheless puffed up with his or her own importance and righteousness precisely because she or he does these things? I have. Jesus here warns us against that attitude. He says: The servant is not greater than the master. Maybe he's talking about himself and God; but if he's talking about strictly human relationships, this sound backwards. The world does not consider servants greater than masters and doesn't need to be warned against that error. Quite the opposite. But there it is, in the middle of an episode of Jesus setting the example of servanthood. So, we are called to be servants not to puff ourselves up, but simply to be servants out of love for one another.
Jesus says I have washed you and that unless I wash you, you have no share with me. The exclusiveness of that statement is a problem, but that's for another meditation. The washing image here has clear overtones of baptism, the sacramental washing of the Christian tradition symbolizing our cleanliness, that is, our righteousness, before God. Whatever else it may be seen to be in a particular Christian tradition, baptism is a symbol of the fact that by grace God considers us clean even when we are not. That's how God loves us. That's how Jesus loves us. It is how we are to love one another. What does that mean? It means we are not to judge, not to condemn, not to criticize for the purpose of bringing another person down but only for the purpose of building up the body of Christ and every member of it. That's how we are to love one another.
Finally, Jesus loved the disciples, and us, by giving his life for them, and for us. In the Gospel of John, this foot washing scene takes the place of the institution of the Eucharist that we find at this point in Jesus' story in the other Gospels. It is a prelude to his death, his way of saying goodbye. We love one another, then, by giving ourselves for one another. Now, that's a tricky business. The Christian call to give ourselves for others can easily be abused and misused. When you think about it, always remember that you have to have a self before you can give yourself. That means that the Christian call to self-giving is not a call to forget that you too are a child of God of infinite worth and value in God's eyes but precisely a call to remember those things. Certainly Jesus never forgot that about himself. So give yourself for others the way Jesus did, maintaining his own worth and dignity to the very end. But it is definitely a call to give ourselves, to come out of our selfish preoccupation with self and to live for each other, even if living for each other may sometimes mean dying for each other.
So, we are to love one another the way Jesus loved the disciples. As a servant, as a forgiving God, and as ones who give ourselves knowingly, with dignity and faith in our own value as persons. It is easy? Of course not. On our own we can't do it. The good news is that God's grace is always there to help. All we have to do is call on it. That is great good news indeed.