Thursday, 21 April 2011

A new command I give you

Liturgy for Maundy Thursday – St Giles Church, Cheddington 8pm

Gospel John 13.1-17,31b-35

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Sermon notes

Maundy Thursday – two primary traditions in Scripture. One – Jesus took bread – institution of Eucharist. Two – a new command I give you. Year of Matthew – synoptic gospels recount last supper – familiar words echoed in Eucharistic prayers. Matthean gospel read in full during Easter, so Johannine account set by lectionary for Maundy Thursday.

Meal John describes – not a Passover meal. In John – Jesus dies on Day of Preparation for Passover. This is when Passover lambs are killed. Chronology is less important than what is being said.

Lovely phrase – offers comfort to us. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus knows time has come. Return to Father. Prepares disciples for crucifixion. John prepares readers for death of Christ.

New command – mandatum. Derivation of Maundy. This new command only understood in context of Jesus’ relationship with disciples. Us.

John says Jesus knows all power given to him by Father. How does he wield? …so he gets up from table and takes off outer garment. Fastens towel and washes feet. Like – receives all power, divests, becomes servant of all. Acts as only a slave could. Not even a servant would touch feet, let alone a master.

Deliberate. Hour has come – but John is clear Jesus is in control. His actions measured, meaningful. Told in the way we can learn from the symbolic act – and put what we learned into practice for ourselves.

A new commandment I give you. Acted out. What is it? Love one another – but in special way. His actions all dictated by love. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Meal is a love feast. Agape. Love does not stand on ceremony. Does whatever needs be done. Service. Humility. Debasement, even. Ultimately, the cross.

The is salvation played out before our very eyes. Arms open wide on the cross. God’s arms embrace hostile world. Everything turned upside down. Power displayed through weakness. Authority and dominion through humiliation. Grace – the word we use for it. Amazing grace.

As one theologian has said:
This night, then, not only introduces to the meaning of the Lord's Supper, but indeed the whole Passion and is therefore worthy of remembrance and proclamation as we listen to, wait, and watch for the promised deliverance of the nations that Jesus' death and resurrection are about to accomplish. Amen

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