Let us pray. Holy God, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love. Amen.
Our liturgy this night is one of endings and beginnings. What began on Ash Wednesday is brought to a close here. What begins tonight does not end until the resurrection of Easter. We began our journey remembering our mortal nature marked as a reminder of who and whose we are. We begin tonight, invited to remember the story of a meal shared, feet washed, and of the ultimate gift of love.
Why then is remembering so important? To remember is to bring something to mind, to look back on something in the past. Sometimes deliberate, sometimes spontaneous. It can be an event, information, feeling, or experience. The remembering has the power to take the past and bring it forward into the present moment. The power to provide identity and purpose. And remembering the past, our present lives can be changed forever. Tonight, we remember. For that is what we are called to do as God’s people this Maundy Thursday. Each of our readings contains this very theme of remembrance. In the first reading from Exodus, we hear the instructions given to the people of Israel, gathering for the Passover meal that ends with this instruction, “This day shall be of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. Throughout your generations, you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” In our reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we hear how on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gathered his disciples around the table, offered his body and blood and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But the message in our gospel is the reason we refer to this day as Maundy Thursday. Maundy, which comes from the Latin ‘mandatum’, meaning ‘mandate’ or ‘commandment’. In our gospel, Jesus washed his feet and commands love in remembrance. This is his new commandment, “Love one another. Even as I have loved you, you also must love one another.”
Tonight, we also remember that it is the second Maundy Thursday we have experienced in this extended time of COVID. As we gathered last year, we could not have imagined how very similar we were to the disciples on the night that Jesus gathered them together. Like them, we faced an uncertain time, a frightening time, a time marked by physical separation, isolation, suffering, and yes, death. The uncertainty of our experience is something that the disciples would come to understand as well. From our gospel, we understand that Jesus knew things were about to change in his life and in the lives of his disciples. Taking the form of a servant, washing their feet, Jesus calls them to something new and yes, rather shocking. Calls them to an act of humility out of love. He was also teaching them about vulnerability, about opening self to receive the life of another. After Peter’s protest, Jesus says, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand. Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Jesus’ actions are punctuated with a sense of urgency and from the opening sentence of our gospel, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and to go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus loved them to the fullest extent possible, loved them with every fiber of his being, even to suffering death on the cross. Such love is total and unconditional.
The love Jesus exercises with his disciples is a reconciling love. They don’t fully understand what he is doing in this moment. They can’t grasp the significance of the last supper, or his washing their feet, or what he means with this new commandment. But their eyes will be opened to the true meaning and significance of his words and actions soon enough. The love Jesus asks the disciples to exercise is the love he exercised towards them. A love that breathes new life into relationships that are broken. A love that not only repairs and restores, but also heals, transforms, and strengthens. As he shared a last meal and took the role of a servant, Jesus showed his disciples how to maintain and remain in relationship with him, with each other, and with those he came to serve even after he would no longer be with them. A new normal was about to begin. They would be on their own without him. Sent out to look at others, the way Jesus looks at them.
Jesus taught the disciples the lesson they needed to know, a lesson that we have also learned: that relationships aren’t based on proximity. If anything, we have learned to reach across the miles to connect, and even to have moments of joy in the midst of our separation. Our ability to remain connected though, is all about love. Jesus taught that evening, that love is the unifying agent. A love that has no limits or bounds. What we have learned this year in our separation, is the deep desire and longing for intimacy and closeness with others and with God. We’ve come to see that feet had been washed in new ways of service throughout the world. Strangely enough, it took a pandemic to remind us of what really matters, what really is essential in our lives, essential to our faith.
If we remember nothing else, we know that we are always united by bonds of faith, and hope, and love. For there is no social distancing with Jesus. This night, we remember what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand, that real love, and real faith, and real discipleship means one thing and one thing alone. It means servanthood rooted in love. Just as Jesus had told them earlier, “I am among you as one who serves,” he now puts these words to action. Even for us over two thousand years later, nothing has really changed about what real love is, and how Jesus calls us to demonstrate it to others. Indeed, if we want to know what it means to follow Jesus, the mandate is clear. It means being willing to serve others with the open heart of love. And when we learn to serve, we learn to live.
So as we continue our journey to the cross, may we remember this night, the great gift of love received and the command to share it. For by this, everyone will know that we are his disciples. Amen.