The God of love is kneeling at our feet
Mary Copping, 18 April 2019
Exodus 12: 1–14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26; John 13: 1–17, 31b–35
Today, Maundy Thursday, we begin the Easter triduum, preparing to enter into the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection. The three days of preparation and prayer, through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, until Easter Day and the resurrection of our Lord are the days that stand at the core of our Christian faith.
Throughout the Bible, we can see the hand of God at work in the world and for his people. Tonight, from our Exodus reading we recall the history of the Passover in which God led the Hebrews out of slavery many years ago. He instructed them to sacrifice a perfect lamb and to put a mark in the blood of that lamb on their doors, so that they would be spared and brought out of Egypt to freedom. In trust and faith they did as they were instructed, and they saw God lead them from bondage to new life.
The celebration of the Jewish Passover is a sacrament, a sacred feast to celebrate the salvation of God that took place from that first Passover meal in Egypt. And for Christians, as we receive Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament, the sacred feast of the Eucharist, we are participants in the salvation of Christ on the cross.
Tonight we recall and re-member, or bring together, the celebration of the Passover of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, the final meal he would have with them. Jesus was preparing the disciples for what was to come, pointing to his death, as he described the bread and the wine as his body and blood. The hands of Jesus that would soon be pierced with nails, took the bread, broke it and offered it as his body. The hands of Jesus held the cup, blessed it and shared it as his blood. This was the last night before those precious hands, which had touched and healed, would have nails driven through them, as Christ was crucified for our sake and for the sake of our broken world – bringing us, his people, to freedom in him, to new life, through the shedding of his blood on the cross.
The events that happened that night (and before) are real events which have new and fresh meaning to each and every generation, now and in the future – to us and to those who will come after us. Jesus brought new meaning and new life to this Passover meal.
In this last evening with his disciples, Jesus then gave them an example of humble service by kneeling to wash their feet. At some point before this supper, there’d been heated discussions between the disciples about who was the greatest amongst them. Jesus had responded that the least among them was the greatest and told them, ‘But I am among you as the one serving’. These men, devoted to God, who had followed Jesus through many challenging situations over the past three years, were still concerned about which of them would come first. So here, at this supper, Jesus gave them a wonderful example to follow of humble service.
How challenging for the disciples to be ministered to by their Lord and master! Almost impossible for Peter, who couldn’t take it – Peter, the one who always said what others couldn’t say and often expressed what the others were feeling. Yet Jesus urged him to accept this service from him, something that in Peter’s pride he did not want to happen. So, Jesus humbly knelt and washed the disciples’ feet, and the disciples had to accept this humbly. How challenging for us to receive the washing of our feet, to receive ministry and help from others! How often we want to be in charge, helping others and, like Peter, find it so difficult to receive help.
Jesus then says to his disciples, ‘I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples.’ Jesus – knowing what was to come, knowing that he would receive not love but hatred and condemnation from many in the next few hours – was urging his followers to show love to one another … and urging us as his followers to show love to each other, urging us in this world that can be full of hatred and violence to show others the unconditional love that we receive from God, so that they will know that we are followers of Christ.
Jesus urges us in this world that can be full of hatred and violence to show others the unconditional love that we receive from God.
So as we come to receive the foot-washing, and receive the body and blood of Christ, and as we watch with him, let us as his followers walk with him to the cross.
I’ll finish by reading a poem about the Last Supper by Malcolm Guite, ‘Holy Week, Maundy Thursday’, from his collection Sounding the Seasons.
Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.