He loved them to the end

A sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year C
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The hours are drawing to a close.
The time for Jesus to be with his disciples is at an end.

They had been through a lot together, this carpenter turned rabbi, all these ex-fishermen, and even a former tax-collector. They had just experienced some of the most tumultuous and exciting days of Jesus’ ministry – the raising of Lazarus from the dead, attempts to kill and arrest Jesus, and then the triumphal entry.

With the echoes of “hosanna” probably ringing in their ears, the disciples have gathered with Jesus in the upper room for their traditional Passover meal. But almost immediately they would realize that this would be unlike any other dinner they had ever shared together.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Jesus washed their feet.
This was NOT the behavior of a rabbi. This was a very dirty and messy job left for the slaves of the house to perform.
Jesus, taking on the role of a servant, washed his disciples feet.

Despite Peter’s objection, Jesus accomplishes what he had intended to do – to give them an example of his kind of leadership. He was a leader who was also a servant.

In tonight’s reading from John we do not hear of the last supper. We do not hear the words of institution. In John, the time Jesus spends in the upper room with his disciples stretches for chapters. The account is very wordy, but it contains this very intimate moment between Jesus and his disciples.

This washing of their feet is a foreshadowing of the last hours of Jesus’ life. Here Jesus is not triumphantly entering Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna, being hailed as a conquering messiah. Here Jesus is stooping to serve, serving them out of love.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

That word, “to the end,” does not just have the concept of the end of a story, but it suggests “the uttermost,” “to the extreme.”
In the last hours of Jesus’ life, he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, denied by another, abandoned by the rest. He would be utterly alone. He would be tried and convicted on trumped up charges. Both he and justice would be mocked openly.
He would be stripped and beaten, treated as a common criminal.

Yet what did Jesus do, knowing that his hour had come – he showed love to his disciples by serving them.
He did not flee. He did not arm them for a fight. He served them.
I believe that this, in the end, is the perfect picture of God. Jesus was most like his father when he demonstrated acts of love.

If we are truly called to model our lives after his life, we are then called to this servant love. What does Jesus tell them? “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In Jesus we see the perfection of this unconditional love. If it were up to us to love so completely and unconditionally I fear that we would fail. But take just a second to consider Jesus’ love for these men.

Jesus loved Judas, the one who would betray him in to the hands of those who were going to kill him. He even washed Judas' feet. Jesus never stopped loving Judas, even to the end.

Jesus loved Peter, the one who would deny that he ever knew Jesus. After all they had been through, Peter’s love was that fickle, his courage that weak.
Jesus’ example of love is perfect. It is this example of love that we celebrate tonight.

We just reenacted it in the washing of each other’s feet over dinner. We will commemorate his perfect love in just a few minutes when we celebrate the Eucharistic meal together.

This is the ultimate love Jesus showed to us – laying down his life for ours. Just as he laid aside his garments to wash his disciples’ feet, so he laid aside his power and control in order to be whipped and beaten and killed, an example of love to us for all time.

We cannot hope to love like this in our own strength. We can only trust the example of Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. As we strive to serve each other in love, as we reenact the example Jesus gave us, let us commit ourselves to loving one another, as Jesus did, to the uttermost, to the extreme.

As Jesus told his disciples, so we must be reminded. It is then that the world will know that we are his disciples, not by the laws we pass, not by the groups we discriminate against in the name of God, not by the violence we wage, but by our love. There is no other sign.

Come now and let us celebrate the love Christ has shown to us, and let us leave this place determined that we will love one another. Amen.

I love this depiction of the Last Supper by Jacopo Bassano. The disciples are expressing a full range of motions, including boredom. Only Jesus seems to know what is going on and what will soon happen — isn't that like the Church!!! What is the immediate context? Did he just ask who would betray him? Other details that catch my eye — the light passing through the wine glass casts a red shadow on the table cloth that seems particularly shroud-like. There is a sheep's head on the platter — the Lamb of God? a remembrance of John the Baptist? Is that Peter already holding a knife? There's partially eaten food on the table, but a whole loaf of bread. The basin and ewer from the footwashing are still there, and you even get to see their feet under the table. A rather feminine John the Beloved is basically in Jesus' lap — no, that's NOT Mary Magdalene. Of course, I especially love the presence of the dog and the cat.

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