Tonight we undertake the most universal act of being a Christian Church-we re-enact the Last Supper. We eat bread and drink from the cup, and we hear and remember the final moments Jesus had with his disciples. What happened on this night is at the heart of being Christian. We do not have to get too complicated about the meaning, because Jesus simply sums the moment, “A new command I give you, that you love one another….This is how they will know you are my disciples.” Love one another. I am surprised Jesus calls this a new command. He has said this before in the Gospels, and it is a quote from centuries before in Leviticus 19:18:
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
We know these words so well they may pass us by. I was walking down Main Street recently, and my mind was so full of things I walked by Dan, who plays his guitar in front of Thorne’s Market daily. We always give a nod to each other or talk for a moment, but that day I was distratacted-pulled away surely by important things-but what can be so important to miss the one thing Jesus commanded, always love one another. The next time I passed him I had to apologize, and though Dan didn’t remember the incident, it was important to me because it was a moment where God worked on my heart-reminding me that there were other ways I was not living the commandment, and that none of my distractions or worries are more important than Jesus words on this night-love one another. Let us not pass these words because they are so simple.
This is a minor infraction to contemplate on a night when we remember the betrayal of Judas, the failure to stay awake and support Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s denial, swearing he did not know Jesus, the miscarriage of justice by Caiaphus and Herod, crowds enjoying a spectacle and the brutality of an execution. Everything that is wrong with the world is on display this night. This makes Jesus’s command to his disciples all the more precious, love in the face of all. What a fragile thread of hope, the first stitch to mend the great tear in the heart of world.
Like me, the disciples were distracted by so many other things on this last night. Who was the greatest? What was the plan? Fear, envy, tiredness, and anxiety were probably all greater in their minds. Jesus keeps them focused on what is most important. He tied a towel around his waist and knelt before them to wash their feet. His final gift was to be their servant. Peter is repulsed. “You will never wash my feet.” We can understand his embarrassment. I’ll wash my own dirty feet. Don’t be quite so humble Jesus. Ride a donkey if you wish, but don’t touch my dirty feet. Don’t touch my vulnerability. Don’t remind me how very human I am on this night.
But Jesus insists on serving in this lowly manner. Servant leadership is a nice phrase, but don’t we really want to be elevated to a place where we don’t have to do the dirty work anymore, to a position where we can supervise and give advice to others working their way up in the nature of loving one another. Ah, Holy Jesus, how hast thou offended? Don’t love me on your knees, reminding me of how human and needy I really am-for I might be called to love others in this manner. Love me from on high, love me in your glory, so I don’t have to think about hardship and messiness that goes with your command to love one another. Let me love from the pulpit, or from the choir loft, let me love from a committee, or with my protest sign, or by giving my home-cooked meal to someone who is hungry, but please don’t wash my feet, please don’t call me to my knees with my own towel.
Yes, we have heard these ancient words so many times, but they are new every day. Nothing is more new than the command to love one another. This is what truly changes the world, what captures hearts and minds. Remember our own humanness, with all our frailty and flaws, and let Jesus touch your feet, touch your heart; so you may live anew; and share his passion in common human bond. This is the simple command that will make the world newly alive.