As I Have Loved You
John 13: 21-32
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. 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.”
Today marks the beginning of the holiest time of the Church year—the three days we call the triduum. The liturgy we celebrate this evening is rich and varied in its content, but one theme unites it all: Jesus’ unconditional offering of love. Two moments associated with this day reveal this truth most clearly. The first is the meal Jesus shared with his disciples where he took bread and wine, called them his body and blood, and offered them to his friends. Jesus commanded his followers to continue to celebrate this sacred meal, and the Church has faithfully done so for nearly 2000 years in its celebration of the Eucharist, trusting that Christ Jesus continues to offer and reveal himself to us as we share the meal.
The second example is that tender scene from John’s gospel where Jesus humbled himself to take the role of a servant and washed his disciples’ feet. This night we follow our Lord’s example and wash one another’s feet as we hear again Jesus’ new commandment (mandatum in Latin, from which this day derives its name): love one another. The sacred meal and the washing of feet are powerful and tangible ways Jesus offers us his love— fully revealed to us tomorrow when we find him hanging on the hard wood of the cross for our sake. The challenge for many of us is accepting that gift of love, so great and so freely given.
Consider Peter’s response when Jesus comes to wash his feet: ‘You will never wash my feet’ (John 13:8). Peter seems unwilling or unable to accept this tender expression of love Jesus offers him, though he later changes his stance. We might identify with Peter’s reaction here, or perhaps with his words from another encounter where he tells Jesus, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a [sinner]’ (Luke 5:8). However inadequate we may judge ourselves to be, Jesus will never leave us. As we enter into the mysteries of these three days we will once again come face to face with the worst about ourselves as well as the unfathomable love of God. May God give us grace to experience and receive again that love Jesus so freely offers us.
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 221)