Transcribed from the audio.
Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In my now 10 years of ordained ministry, it has been my experience that some of the most sacred and profound conversations that I’m invited into are those with someone who knows that they are about to die. Sometimes I’m invited to a hospital bedside, to a hospice bed, maybe a bedroom, maybe around a kitchen table. And while the places may vary, I’m always cognizant of the fact that I’m standing on holy ground and that the conversation that I’m invited into is when things get really real. All pretense or any sense of that is gone.
It is in those times that people speak of the things that are the deepest. Sometimes it’s a reflection on their life. Sometimes it’s an expression of some regrets: things that they wish they’d spent more time doing or spending more time with those they love. What undergirds all of those conversations is love. Often I am asked to be sure to tell a beloved spouse or children or friends after they are gone how much that person loved them. They speak of the things that are eternal, the lasting things, the enduring things, the things that make a life matter and give it meaning. It is sacred and holy ground and sacred and holy conversation.
Tonight, as we gather as a community of faith, we, too, are invited into sacred ground and a holy conversation that Jesus has with his disciples, knowing that he will soon be crucified; knowing that one of them will betray him; knowing that one of them will deny him, not once, not twice, but three times. Knowing that virtually all of them, when he makes his way to Calvary and the cross, will desert him. Jesus knows these things and this is his last meal and his last conversation with the disciples, and tonight, with you and me.
He speaks of the things that he wants them to remember when he is no longer physically present with them. And he speaks of love. He gives them a new commandment, a mandate from whence we get Maundy Thursday: to “love one another, just as I have loved you. So you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” In John’s Gospel this is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It goes on for five chapters. He tells them what’s going to happen. But he also tells them a really important thing: that even after he’s gone he will not leave them orphaned, that he will ask God and God will send another— the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—to be with them, to abide in them, to remind them of everything he has taught them, to encourage them, to counsel them, to empower them to be Christ’s disciples of love in a hurting world.
The message is one of love, that we are called to the high and holy opportunity to love one another as Christ has loved us. And then to underscore that point, he gets on his hands and knees and washes their feet. That would’ve been the job of the lowliest level servant in a household. By getting on his hands and knees and washing each one of their feet, including the one who betrayed him, the one who would deny him, those who would desert him, he’s saying nothing is too lowly, too small, too humble to express an abiding love, one for another. He models for the disciples and for you and me that self-sacrificial love that is powerful enough to touch and transform lives.
We know that that love manifests itself in myriad ways in our own lives. We think about the things that God has put on our heart to respond to in love. For some, that love for one another is expressed in your great passion for the care of creation, this fragile earth, our island home. For some, it is a burning passion on your heart to love one another by caring for the poor, the homeless and those on the margins. For some, it is around issues of social justice and reconciliation. For some, I know that God has placed on your heart, in a passionate and powerful way, the plight of immigrants and refugees in this country and around the globe.
God gives each one of us different gifts. God gives each one of us different things to do. Our response is to follow where God is calling you and nothing is too small, too lowly, too insignificant to model that love. As Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.”
I was reminded of that this past week in one of those Holy Spirit encounters. I was visited by the Canon for Reconciliation for Coventry Cathedral, the Reverend Dr. Sarah Hills. You may know the story of Coventry Cathedral. It was bombed, as Coventry was in 1940 during the world war. And the head of the Cathedral at the time said, “We will rebuild but we will not retaliate. We will rebuild as a testament to the enduring power of Jesus Christ that love conquers darkness. This Cathedral will be a light to the nations.” And over the past decades Coventry Cathedral has been known globally for its work in reconciliation.
When Sarah visited with me she told me that she was about to embark on a peace and reconciliation march with 19 others in Iraqi Kurdistan. On Palm Sunday, they began in Erbil at a Christian refugee center and they are this week making their way into the Muslim areas in the mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, being a prayerful, praying witness to the power of Christ’s love. Tonight, the Chaldean Patriarch will be gathering—probably not in a space like this—with Christian refugees, the pilgrims on that march, and Muslims. And he will wash their feet, reenacting, remembering for us, that there’s nothing too small to express the love of God in Christ.
You may know that this Cathedral is a member of Coventry’s Community of the Cross of Nails and our Coventry Cross is in the bay on the south side of the Cathedral. I was privileged to take Sarah there to see it. There are two words on that cross: “Father Forgive.”
On this night we stand on Holy ground. We are invited into a holy and sacred conversation and an invitation to live our lives modeling that of the One who sacrificed everything out of love. At the end of the farewell meal, Jesus prays to the Father that he will stay with the disciples and that they will be one and that their community will be known by its love. Jesus invites you and me on this Holy night to follow him, knowing what that means. What will your answer be?