John 13:1-17, 31b-35
1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to God. Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end.
2 The tempter had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that God had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus 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.” 11 For Jesus knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After Jesus 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? 13 You call me Rabbi and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Rabbi, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to 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 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31b “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in the Son of Man. 32 If God has been glorified in the Son, God will also glorify the Son in God’s own self and will glorify the Son at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Judeans so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Please pray with me this evening, church:
Teach us love again tonight.
In water and washing, show us what love looks like.
Help us receive love.
So that we might be love.
“Do you remember your last supper before the pandemic?”
These words from our Words of Confession from this evening really hit me hard as we were putting together the liturgy for this Maundy Thursday worship service. “What was my last meal before everything shut down? Do I even remember? What did I do right before it seems like the world stopped?”
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve continually marveled to myself, completely baffled as I’ve wondered how something as small as a virus, something you need an electron microscope to see, could bring the entire world to its knees, to a grinding halt. It still defies my explanation and logic.
When we made the decision as a Church Council to move our faith community online over a year ago, absolutely none of us knew what we were dealing with, and absolutely none of us considered even in the realm of the most absolutely far-fetched of scenarios that we’d be here over a year later.
Initially, we had hoped to be back open for in-person worship for Easter.
Then it became summer. Then the school year. Then the fall. Then Christmas. Then maybe by this Easter. Then…
And I say all this to say…a year is a really long time to be apart from people you love, people you care about. And how do we walk the tightrope and thread this impossibly difficult needle between our deeply innate human need for connection and the commandment we heard from Jesus tonight to “Love one another”…especially when loving one another means keeping apart to keep people safe?
I’ve been immensely grateful for the work and difficult discernment of our Church Council these past 12+ months. There’s deep wisdom embedded in collective decision-making. And every time we have these conversations prayerfully, asking God to help us work out and discern what God would have us do, what the faithful response is. If you’ve got the phone number or the email address of a Council member, I’d encourage you to drop them a note of gratitude, to just say thanks for the ways they’ve wrestled with these decisions.
Which reminds me…what I was doing before the pandemic…
I had just pulled through the Starbucks across the street from the church on Saturday morning, March 14, 2020. I got my Venti Iced Coffee and came over to the Community Center to help set up tables and chairs so our Capital Campaign Leadership Team and our Church Council and our Staff could meet with our Capital Campaign Consultant so that we could build out the framework of our Capital Campaign that we were set to launch the next day, Sunday, March 15. And all throughout the morning’s conversations, I was distracted, refreshing news sites and clergy facebook groups and Gulf Coast Synod Leaders’ pages…trying to see who was going to be the first to call it. I think we all knew what was coming…but no one ever wants to be first on such a consequential decision… Council met briefly after our Capital Campaign planning session and we made the call. But as I said, none of us imagined what the next 12 months would look like.
I guess my last supper before the pandemic was coffee… Huh…
Appropriate, I figure…
There have been lots of other last suppers over the past year. Last meals with loved ones who are dying and who have since died…often meals shared between panes of glass or shared mediated through a screen to try and keep folks safe. Last meals shared between people who used to consider themselves friends…this year, and really these recent years, have brought to light some really hurtful divisions in our world, between families, friends, that person you used to hang out with from high school or college. Last meals eaten by those who have had their lives taken from them prematurely…through injustice, war, violence…even taken by a deep freeze that had no business being down here on the Gulf Coast.
Our series for Lent from a sanctified art is called Again & Again: A Lenten Refrain. And the premise of Again & Again is that the stories we read in the Bible are still happening in our world, in our country, in our state, in our very neighborhoods…every single day. I mentioned this in my Palm Sunday sermon a few days ago, we tend to sort of relegate these stories to Scripture and kind of view them with an historical curiosity…but actually, these stories are narratives that repeat and echo throughout history and are even being retold and happening again in this lifetime.
There are still gatherings taking place during this pandemic. Mostly it’s families getting together via facetime or zoom. Many of you have standing appointments with your kids and grandkids. Some neighborhood groups get together at parks with folks able to keep an appropriate distance between each other.
And again and again, God shows up there. Again and again, we know that Jesus is present in those moments because Jesus has already been there…gathered with his disciples…frightened…but sharing a sacred moment together.
There are still meals being shared together. Maybe not at restaurants like we used to…we’re still using DoorDash and delivery like crazy…but people are still coming together over meals. Friends and families are eating together using technology or finding ways to eat outside while sitting far apart… We’ve adapted our whole way of sharing in communion together. I feel connected with this faith community and all of you in a way that I’ve never felt before when we share in that sacred meal each week in our virtual worship. It’s a sense of connectedness that’s difficult to describe…but it’s so holy to me. To know that even in ways that are impossible for me describe…that God is still somehow working.
Again and again, God shows up in that meal. Again and again, we know that Jesus is present there because Jesus has shared that meal with his friends, Christ has promised to be present.
The painful reality of our world means that there are still betrayals happening every day in our world. Betrayals of confidence, betrayals of trust, betrayals of justice, betrayals by friends and family members. This is part of what it means to live in a broken world in desperate need of redeeming.
And the good news, church, is that again and again, God shows up there, in those places. Again and again, we know that Jesus is present there because Jesus has already been there. Betrayed. Handed over. And still, he ate with the one who would betray him. Still, Jesus washed the feet of those that would betray and deny him…
And beautifully, there are still acts of service and love happening, even now, in the midst of pandemic, when they’re needed maybe more than ever. A few weeks ago, I pointed out in my sermon the ways I felt like God and the Holy Spirit have never been more active in our world and in this community of faith than during the past year. Through volunteering at East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry or Fort Bend Family Promise, through cards for healthcare workers, buying dinner for your neighbor who’s a nurse, donating headphones to Armstrong so elementary students could log on to learn, reaching out to one another in the midst of a terrible freeze… And what struck me during that sermon is not once did I mention worship. And please don’t get me wrong, worship is important…but how we gather for worship may not be as important as the fruits of our worship. What I’m saying is tonight we heard Jesus give his disciples a new commandment—the mandatum novum (where we get the word Maundy)—a new commandment that they love one another as they have been loved.
Show love to one another.
Simple as that. Also as difficult as that.
And again and again, God shows up in those acts of love. Again and again, we see the face of Jesus in the face of a neighbor. Jesus is present in those acts of service because Jesus first showed us how to serve…by washing one another’s feet, by humbling yourself, by taking the lower place.
By serving. By loving.
That’s where Jesus is.
Present wherever love is.
Seen most clearly in the face of your neighbor in need.
Tasted most fully in a meal shared between a beloved community.
Again and again, we are called to love.