Maundy Thursday (C): A Daring Love
By: The Rev. Andrew Hege
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
John’s Gospel text, appointed for this evening in Holy Week, invites us into the dining room of a home somewhere in the city of Jerusalem. It is not a familiar setting, for us or for Jesus and congregation his friends sitting around the table. From the other Gospel writers, we know that this is a borrowed table in the home of an unnamed resident.
The night that brings them around that table is the night that is different from every other night—the night that, for first-century Jews, the night of remembering the story we will also read from the Exodus. This night is a moment to pause and to recall with thanksgiving the great faithfulness of God who acted in mercy toward the people of Israel, bound for generations in slavery in the land of Egypt. It is a night to remember an identity.
And yet, all over again, this night is about to become different from every other night. Even as the twelve are around the table, Jesus is setting in motion a new remembrance; a new act of God’s mercy.
The sacred ritual that will mark this new, old remembrance is an act of humility; a chore reserved not for the leader of the movement but for the servant of the household. By removing his outer robe and wrapping the towel around his waist, the night became new and different all over again.
As the simple sound of pouring water strikes the bottom of the basin, one can almost sense the tension that must be present in the room.
What is he doing? Has he forgotten?
No, in fact, he is remembering who he truly is, as he attentively washes and tenderly dries the first pair of feet, then the next, and the next.
Simon Peter, for those in the room and, truly, for all of us, names the tension. To Jesus he wonders aloud, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus, in reply, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
And, in response, “You will never wash my feet.” Just like that, so many of us find, in this old Gospel lesson, a person with whom we can relate. Not me. Not my feet, Lord.
You will never wash my feet that haven’t had time to receive a pedicure.
You will never wash my feet that have walked around in these shoes all day long.
You will never wash my feet that went to the gym during the lunch hour.
Lord, you will never wash my feet.
To this, Jesus issues the most difficult of his responses: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Tough words, for the disciples around the table and for us who hear this text some two millennia later.
Their Lord and Teacher reminds them of his place among them; an example that they have seen and should go forth to imitate themselves—servants are not greater than their masters and messengers are not greater than their senders. But the teaching, the message, he tells them, is in this mandatum, this new commandment:
That you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
All that Jesus has showed them, all that he has taught them, all that he has sought to share with them in their journey has been summed up in this single and simple way: Love one another.
It is a daring love.
But let’s be honest about what the disciples either did not or could not say in that sweet, solemn moment: Loving one another like this sounds well and good; but when put into practice, it is not as simple as Jesus makes it sound.
Love one another.
Love one another and bear each other’s burdens.
Love one another and feel one another’s pains.
Love one another and allow the possibility of being hurt.
Love one another and open yourself to being understood in your depths.
Love one another and make amends where you have wronged the other.
Love one another and put your arm around the one who cries, who hungers.
Love one another and be willing to love even to the point of washing one another’s feet, as Jesus has knelt to wash those of his closest friends, his tender hands touching their dusty, calloused feet.
It is daring because this kind of love bids the invitation to open up to be seen for who one really is; to experience the type of intimacy that everything around warns us to guard ourselves from; to be vulnerable enough to look into another person’s eyes as they wash with water the calloused skin of a bare foot.
Love such as this is not easy because it is the type of genuine love that does not come cheaply. This love comes at a cost; at a great expense. But in and through and by such love, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Do we dare love so deeply?
The Rev. Andrew J. Hege serves as the Assistant to the Rector at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky. Born and raised in Thomasville, North Carolina, he is a graduate of Montreat College, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Andrew is an ardent golfer, occasional runner, and an avid reader of historical fiction. Ordained a priest in January 2015, Andrew is married to Amanda Schroeder Hege.