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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

A New Commandment - Maundy Thursday - 04/13/2017

We've had a lot of long Gospel readings of late. Large readings can be a little challenging to handle in our worship together but over all, I think we gain a lot by taking in these wider pieces of our story of Jesus. And so today, when the appointed reading has been pared down to make it a little more manageable, I'm going to include the omitted verses from chapter 13, because I feel they are calling out to be read this year.

So, please feel free to sit down at any point if you need to, as you let this wider story of the night Jesus washed his disciples' feet fall on your ears and your heart.

The Holy Gospel, according to St. John, the 13th chapter.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 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.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

 After he 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? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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.’

 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Maundy Thursday.

What does that mean, anyway? Some of us may ask. And what does it have to do with Holy Week? … the days we set aside each year to dwell in that rather dark and sobering event of Jesus being betrayed, arrested, tortured and executed.

The word maundy comes from the Middle English word maunde, which means mandate or commandment. So our Maundy Thursday focus is on what our Lord Jesus commands we do. And also, how those commandments help us understand the hope, glory and life that will be revealed in just a few days when we gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.

One thing Jesus commands we do is share communion together. And we will do that tonight. It will be the last time we are able to commune together until Easter Sunday. We will also welcome Alex VanZandt to the Lord's Table for the very first time tonight. He will receive body and blood of our Lord and it will set a new pattern in his life in which he'll come to the table over and over again, trusting that it is always wide open in its welcome, and overflowing with Jesus' promise to love us, to go with us, to forgive us our sin endlessly.

And we look to another commandment Jesus gives us in our reading from the Gospel of John today. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13.34)

This is one of those verses we hear so often in our lives as Jesus following people, that we might gloss right over it. Instead we look for sentences we may not have noticed before seeking new ways the nature of God is revealed to us in what Jesus says and does. “Yes, Jesus commands that we love one another as he does,” our internal dialogue may comment. “Yes, I must work harder to love my neighbor. But that's obvious. Now what about this foot washing thing? Or what does it mean that Jesus became troubled in spirit? Who is this disciple called 'the one whom Jesus loved?'”

These are all great questions for bible studying people to pursue, that is for sure. I have to say though, I think the whole cornerstone of this experience with Jesus is actually in that familiar verse 34 that we may slide right over. Because if we linger on it for a minute, we may notice Jesus says something rather strange. “I give you a new commandment …” he says. Only, this is not new. The people Jesus is talking to in this story, the people he is talking to in this room today and in Holy Week gatherings around the world, have inherited God's most basic law from long before Jesus came to walk among us. That is what the whole 10 Commandments are about, after all. The first five teach us how to love God and the second five, how to love one another.

This is not new law, so why does Jesus say it is?

I think perhaps it is helpful to think of it in this way … What Jesus is trying to do here is increase our understanding of God's intent in this ancient law. And he's renewing and expanding it so much that it is like it has become a new commandment.

That is exactly why it felt right to hear this story of the night Jesus washed his disciples' feet in its entirety because Jesus is not only speaking the new commandment to us, he is also showing us what it looks like. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you,” he said to us.

And it's a lot more than being willing to get down on the floor and wash one another's feet.

We can see this in the sequence of events we read tonight.

First we are told that Jesus knows the realities of the cross and the tomb are drawing near. And so he chooses that some if his last moments on this earth are going to be filled with acts of loving those around him.

Then we are told that evil has already taken over the heart of Judas, the one who will give Jesus up to the Roman soldiers. Jesus knew all of this. And so what does he do? He gets up from the table and he begins to wash the disciples' feet, including Judas' feet.

Peter objects to this intimate, power shifting act of foot washing. This is unusual for the teacher to serve his students like this. – more than unusual, really – it's kind of scandalous.

I have to say that I'm grateful it's foot washing Jesus chose for this teaching, because it pushes us beyond our comfort levels a little. It's easy – most of the time – to pour a cup of coffee for someone you don't really like or trust,  or to flip a few pancakes for them at a pancake breakfast fundraiser. But to wash someone's feet and to let someone wash your feet – there's a different level of intimacy and trust in that act. And because of that it has great power to draw people together, to nurture unity and trust and love among one another. So I'm thankful that we continue to re-enact this still today.

And through Peter's objection, we learn this unusual servant-centered approach to the world is key to following Jesus' way. Jesus helps Peter and us understand that. Our call as followers is to serve one another and let others serve us, rather than follow the world's usual call to rule others and let others rule us.

As Jesus continues to teach the disciples, he also reveals that one among them – one with whom he is breaking bread – will betray him. After this, Judas departs to carry out his evil task. Jesus knows where he is going and to what end.

And this is when we get our new commandment.

The lectionary reading ends there, but we read a little farther tonight, to the last piece of this story in which Jesus also foretells Peter's denial. “Before the cock crows,” he tells Peter, you will deny me three times.” (13.38)

So, it seems, the way Jesus makes this “a new commandment” is that we can now see this is much broader than how we would define what it means “love one another.”

Our definitions and demonstrations would be broad, I'll give you that.

They would include our families, certainly, even the one's that irk our gourds. Our friends would most likely be included too. Our definitions and demonstrations would even include the family you'll never know who depends on the food shelter for their Easter dinner. Or resources for the anonymous woman and her children who need the help of the Women's Center to escape an abusive spouse. Or help for the Syrian refugee you'll never meet who will be served by your contributions to the ELCA World Hunger Campaign during Lent.

But would our definitions and demonstrations include some one like Judas whose heart has been overtaken in an evil desire to destroy you some how? Or a so-called friend like Peter who denies even knowing you in your most difficult trial because he was overtaken by fear for his own life and reputation?

Jesus knew Judas was set to betray him – and he washed his feet.

Jesus knew Peter would deny him – and he broke bread with him anyway.

He loved them all to the end.

That is the newness of this commandant we hear this Maundy Thursday. “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

And this is what we are called to as Jesus' people. It sounds so simple, but of course it is not. It's very hard for us to love one another this widely.

However, we also begin these Three Days with a story that reminds us that although it is hard for us, it is not hard for Jesus. So he will go to that cross for us, loving all of us to the end. And in doing so, Jesus entirely frees us to do as we are commanded as best we can, knowing that we will certainly fail many times, but also knowing -- even more certainly –  that we are forgiven those failures by the one who loves even those among us who will betray and deny him.  Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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