Surely none of us here would betray him?
Mary Copping, 13 April 2017
Exodus 12: 1–4, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26; John 13: 1–17, 31b–35
What a stressful meal the Last Supper would have been for Jesus’ disciples. They would have realised the importance of it, but not the complete significance. And Jesus was saying strange things, giving them the bread at supper and saying this was his body. Giving them the wine, saying this was his blood – and to a Jew to drink blood was horrific. What was Jesus thinking? He’d warned them, but they were fearful of what it was coming to.
Then Jesus said that someone at the table was going to betray him – so uncomfortable for them. Surely it can’t be me, can it? But if not me, who could it be? Who would betray the master, the one they’d followed these past three years, the one they looked up to? Surely none of us here?
Then Jesus did the ultimately embarrassing thing: washing the disciples’ feet. This was something that no leader would do; they would not lower themselves. It was for the servant to wash the feet – feet that were dirty, dusty. When guests went to visit houses in Jesus’ time they were either given water to wash their feet themselves, or the more well-to-do hosts would have servants to wash feet. We know that when Jesus went to visit Simon he berated Simon for not giving him water to wash his feet, yet the woman washed his feet with her tears. So, the importance and the humility of foot-washing.
In John 13, we’re told Jesus ‘knew that his hour had come’. Therefore he wanted to leave his disciples with the most important message on his last night before his death. The message was one of love: to show the disciples his overwhelming love for them, and to show them how to give love to one another and to others. It must have been hard for them to receive this service from Jesus, hard to accept him serving them. As it is hard for us to accept others serving us; often we would much rather serve, be the active person, be the one doing.
We sang ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you’. Yes, perhaps easy for us to do, we can do that. But then come the words, ‘Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too’ – much harder for many of us.
How do we serve others, show people our love and care in this troubled world? Of course, there are so many acts of kindness that we can and do do – but most of all we can pray. Pray for the situations we see on the news, pray for the people we meet each day or see as we walk through town. Serve people by praying for them. Prayer is essential and powerful.
There are so many acts of kindness that we can and do do – but most of all we can pray … Serve people by praying for them. Prayer is essential and powerful.
As Jesus was kneeling at the feet of the disciples, I like to think that he was praying for each of them in turn, for God’s strength and help as they would go through their troubles after Jesus had died. We know that Jesus spent much time in prayer, and in John 17 we’re given the prayers that Jesus prayed for his disciples out loud, so that they could hear what he was praying for them.
He had such a close relationship with his Father, always in communion with him, listening to him for words to say, for his next move. As he said, ‘I only do what the Father tells me to do’. One can imagine a wonderful prayerful communion with God all through his life and ministry, talking to God about all that was happening, praying for all those he was ministering to, giving them to his Father.
The other day I was walking back from the bishop’s Lent lecture and saw lots of police cars by the bridge. I realised that there was a woman threatening to jump from the bridge. I knew that I had to stay and pray for the woman – pray for her protection and help. I offered my services as a priest but was told that they were fine; they had two negotiators and didn’t need a priest. I continued to stay and pray. Someone from the cathedral walked past and realised what was happening, and I said I was praying – he went on his way and I am sure he was praying too. Then a woman walked past and asked what was happening and told me that she would be praying as she went on her way. Many people prayed for this troubled woman, who eventually came down safely.
Who is God asking us to serve by praying for them, even when they don’t know it? Ask God to bring us opportunities to pray for people and for the world.
The Last Supper – not a happy time, but full of pain and suffering, fear and dread for the disciples. Washing of feet, bringing puzzlement and embarrassment. When Jesus was with the disciples, was he praying to his Father all the time he was with them? Praying for himself and for his disciples? Praying for grace and mercy in his coming time of trial? And the most harrowing prayer Jesus prayed, sweating drops of blood as he struggled to pray to his Father: ‘Not my will, but yours’.
As we come to the Watch and to Christ’s death on the cross, all we can do is pray. All we can do is look to God, asking for his grace and mercy through the pain and emptiness of this time, praying for God to be with us and with the pain of the world. Amen.