Maundy Thursday – April 12, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Tonight service begins the Great Three Days – the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. It’s why we won’t end with the benediction and blessing, because the service is not over. The service continues. Think about that for a minute. When you leave here this evening, the liturgy – the work of the people – has not ended – and so for the next three days until Easter morning everything we say and do will be part of this Triduum service. That’s something that makes us stop and pause, and rightly so. From the moment we arrived tonight, until Easter morning, we are part of the great three day service. That affects our thoughts, words, and actions. We are still part of the service whether we are here or home or at the grocery store or driving in the car. Wherever we go, we will be participating in this great service that doesn’t end until Easter. How will this affect us? Will we live these next three days differently? Will we stay awake; will we stay present with Jesus during this entire time? This is the challenge that Jesus sets before us tonight.
Throughout Lent we have focused on Luther’s Small Catechism. We’ve discussed and thought about the Ten Commandments, and what they mean. We’ve heard in Luther’s own words the impact of following the commandments – thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor….Tonight we hear in Jesus’ own words a new commandment. “Love one another.” It would seem at first glance as a pretty simple and easy request. We all know what it means to love someone. We all know how to love. So why would Jesus give us a commandment – a mandate – to love one another? The answer is simple. Jesus wants us to love in a different way than is natural to us. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus is commanding us – not asking – to love like he loves. That is not an easy commandment. In fact, it is the hardest commandment of all, because loving like Jesus requires sacrifice. Loving like Jesus requires going out of our comfort zone and doing things that make us feel uncomfortable – like washing each other’s feet. Some churches today try and put a modern context for foot washing by washing people’s hands because that’s what we typically do to make ourselves clean. But Jesus wants us to wash each other’s feet – not just because they may be dirty, but for the very reason that it is uncomfortable. Kneeling down like a servant to wash someone’s feet is a deeply personal and humbling act. We may feel it’s beneath us or that Jesus is asking too much from us. We don’t want to get on our knees to wash someone; we don’t want to place ourselves in such a vulnerable position. That’s a dirty job for someone else.
It reminds me of the now cancelled television series that aired for over seven years – Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Has anyone ever seen it? In that series Mike Rowe – a native from near here in Baltimore – went around the country and spent a day doing the dirty jobs that others do every day. The jobs ranged from golf ball retriever to sewer inspector, septic tank technician to pigeon poop cleanup, and a whole lot more. He did this to highlight the dirty jobs regular people do each and every day. The idea started from an article he wrote called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and it took off from there. “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” but we don’t want to be that person.
Yet, here we are – Maundy Thursday – and Jesus is commanding us – again not asking us – to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves. And that means at times doing the dirty jobs – like taking out the garbage, forgiving that person you’ve been holding a grudge against, or washing the feet of someone else- to show Jesus’ love. This is the key point. We don’t love others because we naturally may be drawn to love them; we love others because Jesus commands us to. Jesus wants us to love even those who may not love us in return, or worse want to do us harm, just like he did. On this night, as Jesus celebrated his last meal with the disciples before he was arrested, Jesus knew what was going to happen next. That’s what makes the events of this night so significant. Jesus knew one of his disciples was going to betray him. He knew one of his disciples was going to deny him. He knew the other disciples and followers would abandon him. He knew he would be tortured and put to death. He begged God in prayer to let him not have to do this if it was at all possible. If there was any other way, Jesus wanted out. But he received in prayer the answer that “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” Somebody’s gotta save the world. Somebody’s gotta make sure all of God’s creation is saved. Somebody’s gotta show people how much God loves them. And that Somebody was Jesus. It was a horrible, dirty, and painful job, but Jesus was willing to do it, because Jesus loves us that much.
That’s the kind of love Jesus wants us to show one another. Jesus wants us to love like him. He wants us to be willing to do whatever it takes to love like Jesus. He wants us to do whatever we can to ease the suffering of others. He’s not asking us to be their savior; Jesus is the Savior. He’s asking us to live our lives in such a way – with such love – that people will know we are his disciples and will be drawn to be his disciples too. When you look at how much Jesus did for us, washing someone’s feet is not such a dirty or hard a command after all.
During these next three days our service continues. It continues by us doing acts of loving service for one another. Jesus gives us a new commandment: “Love one another.” Somebody’s gotta do it, and Jesus says that somebody is us. Amen.